The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the President made observations pertaining to the Army and allegations made by Channel 4 recently.
Thereafter in terms of Regulation Four of the Courts of Inquiry Regulations of 1952, the Army Commander convened a Court of Inquiry (CoI) comprising of the following officers to investigate and submit a report on the said observations made by the LLRC. President - Major General A.W.J.C. de Silva, Members - Major General A.K.S. Perera, Brigadier J.R. Kulatunga, Brigadier W.R.P. de Silva, Brigadier A.S. Wijewickrama and Secretary Lieutenant Colonel H.M.L.D. Herath.
The Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya handed over the first part of the CoI report to Secretary Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Ministry of Defence yesterday.
The court examined senior field commanders, infantry, armour, artillery, intelligence, civil affairs and medical officers who had participated in the humanitarian operation. From the evidence presented, the CoI concluded that the LTTE had violated international law with impunity by committing various unlawful acts inter-alia, using of civilians as human shields, placing of artillery and other heavy weapons amidst civilian concentrations and illegal conscription of civilians, including children and the elderly, for combat purposes thus exposing them to danger.
Evidence before the Court has conclusively established that the Humanitarian Operation was conducted strictly in accordance with the “Zero Civilian Casualty” directive made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and that the commanders had at all times obeyed the said directive and refrained from returning fire even when terrorists had fired from inside the ‘No Fire Zones’ (NFZs). It has also been revealed that as an additional measure of safety, artillery commanders had added 500 meters more to the NFZ boundaries demarcated by Army headquarters.
During the Court of Inquiry it had been established that the LTTE had deliberately located artillery and other heavy weapons amidst civilian concentrations and from such locations, repeatedly fired at security forces positions. However despite heavy bombardment by the terrorists, the Army had refrained from firing heavy weapons and this self-imposed moratorium had caused heavy troop casualties.
Evidence gathered had also revealed that the Army had at all stages of the humanitarian operation, behaved as a well-disciplined military force, observing International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the law of war while taking all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties including those under the custody of the Sri Lanka Army such as surrendered/captured LTTE cadres who were treated humanely according to IHL.
On the contrary, shocking details of war crimes committed by LTTE terrorists such as the use of civilians as human shields, summary executions of civilians attempting to escape to army lines and forced conscription of children for combat purposes were also revealed during the proceedings. The court noted that the international community had failed in their duty to stop the war crimes committed by the LTTE terrorists.
From the testimony presented, the CoI concluded that the instances of shelling referred to in the LLRC report were not caused by the Sri Lanka Army and that the resulting civilian casualties might have occurred due to the said unlawful acts committed by the LTTE. The illegal acts mentioned also included the dropping of artillery rounds fired by inexperienced LTTE gunners on to civilian concentrations, employment of sub-standard artillery rounds obtained from illegal sources by the terrorists and forced-conscription of civilians, including children and old people for combat, thus exposing them to danger.
In his concluding remarks the Commander of the Army has stated that in any war, even those fought by western powers using state of the art hi-tech equipment, civilian casualties are inevitable due to the vagaries of war and although the evidence presented before the Court of Inquiry does not attach blame to any Sri Lankan Army member, if new evidence is presented by any person giving precise information on supposed civilian casualties, such instances will be thoroughly investigated by allowing any individual the opportunity to present factual evidence.
The CoI will now proceed to investigate the second part of their mandate, with regards to the Channel 4 allegations of summary executions of captured LTTE terrorists.