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We need to do more than just claim 40,000 were killed in Sri Lanka

July 6, 2011

We need to do more than just claim 40,000 were killed in Sri Lanka

We need to substantiate this number.

War in Sri Lanka may be mildly interesting to the average Australian until it is coupled with a claim that it is the new ‘Killing Fields’ of Asia where 40,000 civilians were slaughtered. At best it becomes this week’s hot topic. At worst it becomes this week’s self-righteous outrage for those self appointed experts that have very limited knowledge about Sri Lanka and its civil war.

Using terms like ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ automatically draws a comparison with the actual ‘Killing Fields’ in Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge killed 2,000,000 people. Using such loaded language, as Channel4 did in its recent documentary of the same name, puts Sri Lanka on the same moral level as Pol Pot and his murderous campaign. The title of the documentary reads more like a hardcore polemic than objective analysis.

Yet the Channel4 film crew are not the only group who have been careless with factual reporting. Take for instance how the UN Darusman Report estimates the number of people killed in the last months of the Sri Lanka Civil War. Rather than using specifics it uses evasive language to cover all possible figures and at the same time endorses none. In UN-speak we are introduced to a meaningless term of: ‘Credible Allegations’. Note how the Darusman Report avoided using the more specific term of ‘credible evidence’? What on earth does ‘credible allegations’ mean?

The only logical reason that Darusman Report did not use the term ‘credible evidence’ is because they lacked the ‘credible evidence’ to back up their ‘allegations’. And because they had insufficient evidence they added a meaningless qualifier of ‘credible’. One has to wonder who dreamed this term up without understanding that it is really saying: ‘I credibly allege that…’

This brings us to the ‘allegation’ that the Sri Lankan armed forces killed 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final stages of the war. Despite this being a shocking number, it should not be taken as proven fact. Even the Darusman Report pulls its punches by claiming that the number of 40,000 ‘cannot be ruled out.’

As a result we are forced to prove the negative rather than provide evidence that would prove any allegation. Not just this allegation, but any allegation, rumour, gossip, or even boldface lie. It becomes a bottomless pit of reverse justice where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Unfortunately there is total absence of primary evidence that comes close to a figure of 40,000. The real question is where did this figure of 40,000 come from and how did it end up in the Darusman Report? One possible explanation for such an inflated figure to be included is because of intense lobbying by an interested party.

Gordon Weiss is one of the only sources, outside of the pro-LTTE apologists, that have been making this claim. He made this claim soon after the war ended but was immediately contradicted by his bosses at the UN who were only willing to estimate up to 7,000 dead. In fact the figures of 7,000 and 40,000 both appear in the Darusman Report with scant reference to how they arrived at either of these numbers. With the writers of the report unable to see the difference between 7k and 40k it looks more like a wild guess than plausible estimate. Was the highest figure merely included because Gordon Weiss demanded it? If so then this would be a disturbing turn of events, where influence is used in place of evidence.

What the Darusman Report should have included was a chart or a map of where they claim large numbers of people were killed. What they should have included, and did not, was how those deaths were reliably confirmed, rather than extrapolated. Even more useful would be a list of names of those they have alleged to have been killed.

Instead we are left with nothing more than the nagging suspicion that the only reason the figure of 40,000 is included is because Gordon Weiss said so.

To put the numbers claimed by Gordon Weiss into perspective they need to be tested against what is plausible:

  • 40,000 killed would leave an enormous number of bodies to be disposed of or buried. Both the LTTE and the government forces were engaged in intensive operations throughout the last months of the war. Neither side had time to run a mass burial program to hide so many bodies. Vast numbers of people would have been stopped from building fortifications and fighting in order to bury the masses of bodies.
  • No photos of mass graves or piles of hundreds of bodies exist to support allegations of tens of thousands killed. This is despite the fact that the LTTE were still sending war photos to news agencies right up until the last days.
  • Nowhere has the LTTE mentioned the location of mass graves or where thousands of dead bodies were left to rot. This is despite the fact that LTTE had been using claims of ‘genocide’ as part of its propaganda campaign.
  • There are no satellite photos of mass graves or concentrations of bodies. This is despite the fact that high resolutions satellite photos were produced near the end of the war zone showing thousands of civilians in tent cities.
  • To make a realistic comparison, when the 2004 Tsunami hit Sri Lanka 30,000 lives were lost, only a fraction of this number were found dead on land and in water ways. Even with the whole effort of the nation and international support it took weeks to dispose of the bodies. Yet we are to believe that Sri Lanka had developed in just few short years into the most efficient hider of bodies in history.

Yet despite the lack of any primary evidence of mass killings by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces there are further glaring gaps in logic for such assertions:

  • If the Sri Lankan Armed Forces had aimed to kill masses of Tamil civilians why would they bother rescuing 300,000 from the LTTE?
  • After having accepted 11,000 surrendered LTTE cadres why didn’t they just execute them all?
  • Instead more than 6,000 LTTE cadres have already been released to the community and returned to their families. (Contrast this with how western nations treat accused terrorists with indefinite detention at Gitmo Bay.)
  • We have no reports coming from Sri Lankan sources, anonymous or otherwise, claiming to know where the alleged masses of bodies are buried. (This final point is so incredible that it beggars belief.)

Unfortunately despite any emotional reaction to visual horrors of war we do have a higher obligation to the cold reality of the truth. This can only be discovered when all sensational claims are tested against actual evidence. Objective evidence is the key because this is how we prove an allegation. Without which we are just dealing with hot air.


Gordon Weiss has pulled back from his claim that 40,000 were killed in the last stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War.  The figure he is now supporting in his book ‘The Cage’  is 10,000.  Though this is 3,000 more that the UN estimates (guesstimates) of 7,000, it is a far cry from 40,000.

Gordon is yet to explain this discrepancy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 7:42 am

    The latest ‘civilian casualty’ figures have increased to between 146,000 to more than a million. If you want to see how these number are created, have a look this exchange

    Start at “Mango Says: May 1st, 2011 at 1:40 pm” The respondent, Aryacakravarti has some difficulty in actually proving his claims 🙂

    But, the 20,000 number has now stuck and almost become established as ‘fact’, because as usual, GoSL didn’t really do anything to dispute or disprove the original claim.


    • July 7, 2011 10:54 am

      Thanks for your comments.

      The inflated figures being touted about have no basis in fact. This means that at a diplomatic level (the level that actually counts) most western governments would receive departmental advice to ignore them.The odd politician may scream and rant about sanctions and international tribunals but that is about it. These professional protestors usually have a short attention span and will be moving on to protesting about their usual causes ie: Israel, the Iraq War, coal mining etc. These kinds of people are not interest in evidence and what really happened. They are only ever interested in support their tribal causes.

      I am, however, of the opinion that given enough time the evidence always comes out.

      As for arguing with Amnesty International… Looking at the forum you linked in your comments. I don’t even think that AI bother reading the comments. He said/ she said forums may be emotionally charged but they lack substance. Or as I have noticed in the past, wresting with village oafs only teachers the oafs how to wrestle better.



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