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The charge against the Govt of reducing number of Wanni civilians in estimates

Apr 21, 2011 9:03:28 AM- transcurrents.com

Extracts from report on Sri Lanka by advisory panel appointed by Ban Ki moon

D. Disputing IDP figures as a basis to deny humanitarian assistance

124. Throughout the final stages of the armed conflict, particularly from January to May 2009, the Government downplayed the number of civilians present in the LTTE controlled area, using the low estimates to restrict the amount of humanitarian assistance that could be provided, especially food and medicine.

125. At the outset of the final phase, on 13 January 2009, the Government website reported that, according to independent verifications, the number of civilians in the Vanni was between 150,000 and 250,000. The United Nations estimate at the time was 250,000 (although its subsequent estimates were higher). Later in January 2009, the Ministry of Defence said that the number of civilians present in the Vanni was between 75,000 and 100,000, "on a high estimate", However, the Government had more than sufficient information at its disposal during the final stages of the armed conflict to accurately estimate the actual number of civilians in the Vanni. Each month the GAs continued to collate data on IDPs in order to make requests for dry rations from WFP. Prior to September 2008, numbers compiled by the GAs of Mullaittivu and Kilinochchi indicated that there were around 420,000 people in the LTTE-controlled areas at that time. While these numbers may have been inflated, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates of school children registered in the Vanni were 70,000, which was approximately the same as to the Government’s estimate for the IDP population.

126. The subsequent numbers given by the Ministry of Defence varied, but in general they were deliberately kept low, and some Government employees working in the zone were reprimanded, when they provided other figures or different calculations of need. For instance, on 2 February 2009, the AGA based in the second NFZ sent a situation report to the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs stating that there were about 81,000 families present in Mullaitivu District at that time, totaling some 330,000 persons. However, on 18 March, the AGA received a response from the Secretary of the Ministry of National Building and Estate Infrastructure Development, stating that the figure of 330,000 was "arbitrary and baseless" and that the Government would be "reluctantly compelled" to take disciplinary action against him for providing "wrong information to any source especially in regard to IDP figures".

127. At the end of February 2009, the United Nations Country Team informed the Government that, in its view, there were 267,618 civilians present in the LTTE controlled area, basing the estimate, in part, on UNOSAT Quickbind and Worldview satellite images, used to count the number of IDP shelters. At the end of April, United Nations estimates were that 127,177 civilians still remained trapped, whereas the Government said there were only 10,000 persons left at the time. The number of IDPs who eventually emerged from the area and were housed at Menik Farm and in other camps was approximately 290,000. The discrepancy in these figures has not been adequately explained by the Government.

128. As a result of the Government’s low estimates, the food delivered by WFP to the Vanni was a fraction of what was actually needed, Resulting in widespread malnutrition, including cases of starvation. Similarly, the medical supplies allowed into the Vanni were grossly inadequate to treat the number of injuries incurred by the shelling. Given the types of injuries sustained in the second NFZ, the doctors requested medical supplies such as anaesthetics, blood bags for transfusion, antibiotic, surgical items, gloves and disinfectant. Only a small quantity of these items was allowed into the Vanni. Instead, they received items such as Panadol, allergy tablets and vitamins.

As the casualty figures rose in March 2010, the absence of the needed medical supplies imposed enormous suffering and unnecessarily cost many lives. The RDHS doctors repeatedly spoke out about the inadequacy of medical supplies, in letters and televised interviews. They also compiled and communicated photographs and lists of the names of the injured and dead. They were warned by the Ministry of Health to stop speaking to the media and stop complaining, or be punished." Drs Sathyamoothy and Varatharajah forwarded a report, "Undue Deaths due to Non-Availability of Essential Drugs at Mullaittivu", to the Government on 16 March, stating:

"Most of the hospital deaths could have been prevented if basic infrastructure facilities and essentials medicines were made available. We have been supplied with no antibiotics. no anaesthetics and not even a single bottle of IV fluid, leaving us in a desperate situation of not being able to provide even lifesaving emergency surgery."

129. On 19 March 2009, the Secretary of the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition replied that only strong painkillers and intravenous fluids could be dispatched, since Mullivaikkal Hospital did not have trained anaesthesiologists. The letter also warned the doctors not to violate protocols, by addressing copies of their letters to the Indian High Commission or the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, or else disciplinary action would be taken "for violating procedures and embarrassing the Government".

130. When the doctors exited the conflict zone on 16 May, they were detained and interrogated for several months. In early July 2009, the doctors gave a press conference, in which they said that there were, in fact, very few civilian deaths and injuries during the war and that they had been forced to lie about it by the LTTE This retraction contradicts what they had said in interviews, e-mails and public statements while they were still in the Vanni. The Panel believes they were put under pressure by the Government, and that these retractions do not affect the veracity of their earlier statements.

130. Despite Its access to first-hand information regarding the size of the civilian population and its needs, the Government of Sri Lanka deliberately used greatly reduced estimates, as part of a strategy to limit the supplies going into the Vanni, thereby putting ever-greater pressure on the civilian population. A senior Government official subsequently admitted that the estimates were reduced to this end. The low numbers also indicate that the Government conflated civilian with LTTE in the final stages of the war.(ENDS)

(The above extracts are from pages 36 - 39 of the report on Sri Lanka by the advisory panel appointed by UN Secretary -General Ban Ki moon)