Does "military logic" dictate civilian deaths in Sri Lanka?

Yesterday, the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told a press conference in New York, following his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, that “both sides are pursuing their military logics, if I can put it that way.”  He was referring to the Sri Lankan government’s refusal to agree to a humanitarian pause in hostilities and the refusal by the opposition Tamil Tigers to let the civilians trapped in the war zone in northeastern Sri Lanka leave the area.  Will continued fighting in a shrinking war zone, combined with tens of thousands of civilians being held captive by the Tigers, inevitably mean massive civilian deaths?

We may not have much more time to find out.  President Rajapaksa said today that the government planned to conquer the remaining Tiger-held area in the next five or six days.

“With relatives like these…”:  A Sri Lankan government minister said today that the civilians who’ve managed to flee the war zone already “are totally free and willing to be members of a single Sri Lankan family.”  Meanwhile, a Tiger spokesman today denied that the Tigers were holding the estimated 50,000 civilians in the war zone as human shields, saying, “We all are family.  How could anyone hold his or her family as a ‘human shield?’”

Before it’s too late, the Tigers must announce that civilians are free to leave the war zone and the Sri Lankan government must agree to a pause in the fighting, so the civilians can leave safely and aid can get into the zone.

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16 thoughts on “Does "military logic" dictate civilian deaths in Sri Lanka?

  1. Please for the love of God don't make the civilians a pawn in this matter.
    I have heard both sides of the "Human Shield' and only wanted to say that I feel it is wrong to HIDE behind inocent people. I think the best action is to let the inocent civilians depart the area unharmed! I understand that the world has become much more dangerous than before. You are a terrorist in my view.
    If you were over here in HAWAII we would know what to do with you! Aloha to all but if you are evil, than God HelpYou. Sometimes a chainlink fence is the best blanket I hear too keep someone warm on a "dive".

    Please let the civilians escape the warzone! Have a heart and Aloha for trying to find a solution to this problem.

  2. Please for the love of God don’t make the civilians a pawn in this matter.
    I have heard both sides of the “Human Shield’ and only wanted to say that I feel it is wrong to HIDE behind inocent people. I think the best action is to let the inocent civilians depart the area unharmed! I understand that the world has become much more dangerous than before. You are a terrorist in my view.
    If you were over here in HAWAII we would know what to do with you! Aloha to all but if you are evil, than God HelpYou. Sometimes a chainlink fence is the best blanket I hear too keep someone warm on a “dive”.

    Please let the civilians escape the warzone! Have a heart and Aloha for trying to find a solution to this problem.

  3. People need to be mindful that most of the people in the warzone will face torture, rape, and death under the hands of the military in the name of screening. Has anyone proposed a solution for that? What will happen to anyone with a relative who is or was with the rebels or worked as employee to make a living during their 15 year rule of a region with little economic opportunities? They are all sentenced to slow death at the hands of the military? Why not ask for protection by UN forces for these people? Why go the extra mile to throw equal number of punches in order to appear neutral?

    As far as the government minister's comment about civilians who’ve managed to flee the war zone already “are totally free and willing to be members of a single Sri Lankan family”, we have heard this before, and here is my poem again:

    YOU SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO SHED TEARS, AND ONLY TEARS

    We are two brothers of a family, born in this paradise Island
    Let us share and care, because it is our land
    There is no my land, your land, and traditional homeland
    There is only one brand, so united we stand

    I am the big one, you are the little one
    I am always first, you shall be second best
    If you challenge me, you will have none
    Work with me, I will pick first and share the rest

    I will take care of you, do not have worry
    I will give you toys that are no fun to me
    If I snatch them back, do not be sorry
    That is how a united family is meant to be

    You shall play with me whenever I ask
    You shall sit in a corner whenever I command
    I will beat you up if you do not finish my task
    I will beat you up even if you do as I demand

    You shall not scream or call mom and dad
    You can not sit alone, because there is no room for you upstairs
    You shall not cry out loud, because I will look bad – but
    You shall have the right to shed tears, and only tears

  4. AI is very concerned about the civilians who've managed to flee the war zone so far, and we've made proposals to the Sri Lankan government and the international community to protect them. Just see our April 24 public statement and our 18-page briefing paper (both available on the AIUSA website). But the risks civilians face in the government-controlled territory don't excuse the LTTE shooting civilians who've been trying to flee or continuing to hold others trapped in the war zone at gunpoint.

  5. People need to be mindful that most of the people in the warzone will face torture, rape, and death under the hands of the military in the name of screening. Has anyone proposed a solution for that? What will happen to anyone with a relative who is or was with the rebels or worked as employee to make a living during their 15 year rule of a region with little economic opportunities? They are all sentenced to slow death at the hands of the military? Why not ask for protection by UN forces for these people? Why go the extra mile to throw equal number of punches in order to appear neutral?

    As far as the government minister’s comment about civilians who’ve managed to flee the war zone already “are totally free and willing to be members of a single Sri Lankan family”, we have heard this before, and here is my poem again:

    YOU SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO SHED TEARS, AND ONLY TEARS

    We are two brothers of a family, born in this paradise Island
    Let us share and care, because it is our land
    There is no my land, your land, and traditional homeland
    There is only one brand, so united we stand

    I am the big one, you are the little one
    I am always first, you shall be second best
    If you challenge me, you will have none
    Work with me, I will pick first and share the rest

    I will take care of you, do not have worry
    I will give you toys that are no fun to me
    If I snatch them back, do not be sorry
    That is how a united family is meant to be

    You shall play with me whenever I ask
    You shall sit in a corner whenever I command
    I will beat you up if you do not finish my task
    I will beat you up even if you do as I demand

    You shall not scream or call mom and dad
    You can not sit alone, because there is no room for you upstairs
    You shall not cry out loud, because I will look bad – but
    You shall have the right to shed tears, and only tears

  6. AI is very concerned about the civilians who’ve managed to flee the war zone so far, and we’ve made proposals to the Sri Lankan government and the international community to protect them. Just see our April 24 public statement and our 18-page briefing paper (both available on the AIUSA website). But the risks civilians face in the government-controlled territory don’t excuse the LTTE shooting civilians who’ve been trying to flee or continuing to hold others trapped in the war zone at gunpoint.

  7. Jim,

    Nobody can be justified for shooting at civilians, if reports are true (i.e. taken from people who are under no pressure – direct or indirect). If you have independent information, how many people are there? How many want to leave? After some leave and if others do not leave because of fear, does it mean they are all legitimate targets and there is a license to take them all out by any means (massive air bombs, chemical gas)? Is there an offer out there for those who do not (may not) want to enter the government area at all? Good conflict resolution should be based on coming up with a comprehensive solution to address the current situation as well as the longterm political feature. Currently these too pieces are missing – at least based on public information. Regardless of AI's hard work, human rights situation is unlikley to improve until there is a solution to the root cause – the root cause that is buried in the history and started way before 1972 or 1983. The root casue that need to be addressed by holding free and fair referendum to ask the Tamils whether they want to stay with Sri Lanka under a unitary state concept or separate and form a country or stay together as a "loose union" of two nations. Isn't this the right thing to do in this "civilized world"? If this was done in 1948, I am sure AI would not have needed to issue all these reports on Sri Lanka. All Tamils want is peace and dignity – freedom to live in and develop our own land without others interfering.

    These commnets are not in anyway meant to question your motive. Your hard work is much appreciated. Without HRW and AI and other NGOs, no western government would be even talking about this issue – AIs words are respected, and that is more of a reason for you to understand the overall picture rather than compartmentalize the problem.

  8. Jim,

    Nobody can be justified for shooting at civilians, if reports are true (i.e. taken from people who are under no pressure – direct or indirect). If you have independent information, how many people are there? How many want to leave? After some leave and if others do not leave because of fear, does it mean they are all legitimate targets and there is a license to take them all out by any means (massive air bombs, chemical gas)? Is there an offer out there for those who do not (may not) want to enter the government area at all? Good conflict resolution should be based on coming up with a comprehensive solution to address the current situation as well as the longterm political feature. Currently these too pieces are missing – at least based on public information. Regardless of AI’s hard work, human rights situation is unlikley to improve until there is a solution to the root cause – the root cause that is buried in the history and started way before 1972 or 1983. The root casue that need to be addressed by holding free and fair referendum to ask the Tamils whether they want to stay with Sri Lanka under a unitary state concept or separate and form a country or stay together as a “loose union” of two nations. Isn’t this the right thing to do in this “civilized world”? If this was done in 1948, I am sure AI would not have needed to issue all these reports on Sri Lanka. All Tamils want is peace and dignity – freedom to live in and develop our own land without others interfering.

    These commnets are not in anyway meant to question your motive. Your hard work is much appreciated. Without HRW and AI and other NGOs, no western government would be even talking about this issue – AIs words are respected, and that is more of a reason for you to understand the overall picture rather than compartmentalize the problem.

  9. Ram,

    Thanks for your comments. I don't have answers to all your questions. I'm not trying to propose a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka; I'm just trying to help protect the human rights of the civilians, both those in the war zone and those who've fled already. If neither the Tigers nor the Sri Lankan government agree to take any initial steps without a fully agreed resolution to all issues first being worked out, then I'm afraid the "military logic" for each side will inevitably lead to a great number of civilians being killed. AI launched an urgent action appeal on Sri Lanka this past Friday (which is available on the AIUSA website). I'd suggest looking at that appeal to see all things we're asking each side to do. Of course, I'd also ask that everyone write to the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers along the lines suggested in the appeal.

  10. Ram,

    Thanks for your comments. I don’t have answers to all your questions. I’m not trying to propose a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka; I’m just trying to help protect the human rights of the civilians, both those in the war zone and those who’ve fled already. If neither the Tigers nor the Sri Lankan government agree to take any initial steps without a fully agreed resolution to all issues first being worked out, then I’m afraid the “military logic” for each side will inevitably lead to a great number of civilians being killed. AI launched an urgent action appeal on Sri Lanka this past Friday (which is available on the AIUSA website). I’d suggest looking at that appeal to see all things we’re asking each side to do. Of course, I’d also ask that everyone write to the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers along the lines suggested in the appeal.

  11. I have to admit being baffled as to the relevance of the comment immediately above with respect to this discussion.

  12. I have to admit being baffled as to the relevance of the comment immediately above with respect to this discussion.