War Deaths enumerated by Tamil-Speaking Government Servants during 2011 Census

Extract from speech made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Third Annual Defence Seminar organised by the Sri Lankan Army in 2013[1]

Pix from C’bo Telegraph

In 2011, the Department of Census and Statistics carried out an “Enumeration of Vital Events” for the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The Enumeration was conducted between June and August 2011, with field data being collected in July. The enumerators were Government servants from the Northern Province, all 2,500 of whom were Tamil and Muslim officials. Apart from the gathering of usual census data, the enumerators paid attention to the vital events that had taken place in the North from 2005 to 2009, with a particular emphasis on the deaths that took place in the last stages of the war.

The Enumeration Report shows that according of the reporting of the next of kin, 7,896 deaths occurred due to unnatural causes from January to May 2009. This number includes:

  • LTTE cadres killed in action;
  • Civilians killed by the LTTE whilst trying to escape into Government controlled areas;
  • Civilians who were detained and killed by the LTTE for other reasons;
  • Civilians forcefully used for combat and related activities by the LTTE;
  • Civilians who died as a result of crossfire;
  • Civilians who had been reported as dead but who may have escaped or illegally migrated overseas;
  • Deaths reported but not during the Humanitarian Operation for the purpose of claiming compensation; and
  • False reporting.

It is also worth bearing in mind that at the start of the Humanitarian Operation, the LTTE had approximately 30,000 cadres. By its conclusion, nearly 12,000 had surrendered to the Armed Forces. LTTE transmissions intercepted, LTTE documents recovered, LTTE graveyards discovered, and LTTE publications and posters indicate a large number of cadres were killed in action during the early stages of the Humanitarian Operation. It is also possible that many bodies were unrecovered during this period. However, the most intense battles were fought after Puthukudiyirippu. During this period, it was impossible for the LTTE to recover the bodies of its cadres or give any indication of its casualty figures. It is also worth nothing that unlike a conventional military, the LTTE was a terrorist group that did not have a proper procedure of recruiting and maintaining its cadres. Most of the time its cadres used aliases instead of proper names. Some of them did not fight in uniform. As a result, it is difficult to establish with certainty the number of cadres killed. In this context, it is also worth bearing in mind that the military lost nearly 6,000 of its personnel in combat during the Humanitarian Operation. Close to 20,000 more were injured. This gives an indication of the intensity of the battles that took place during this period.

In addition to the deaths that were said to have occurred, the Enumeration of Vital Events shows that 2,635 persons were reported as untraceable. These numbers were reported because the parents and next of kin of the missing persons were not able to recover their bodies or obtain information about their whereabouts. Further investigations have already been carried out with regard to 2,360 of these cases. These investigations have established beyond doubt that 1,625 were instances of forced recruitment by the LTTE. It is also a fact that an unknown number of persons left Sri Lanka through illegal means during the last stages of the war, and are presently resident in other countries. However these countries have not yet divulged their details to the Government. There are only 26 instances of people who are reported by the next of kin as having surrendered to Security Forces and subsequently disappeared.

In a completely independent effort to track the missing persons in the North, UNICEF, together with the Probation and Child Care Commissioner of the Northern Province and the Government Agent of Vavuniya, launched a family reunification project soon after the war. A total of 2,564 tracing applications were received by July 2011. 1,888 of these applications were about missing adults, and 676 about missing children. 64% of the parents of missing children reported that they had been recruited by the LTTE. This study independently confirms our findings.

   *** ***


Colombo Page: “US distances itself from Defense Attache’s Comments on Sri Lankan war,” 4 June 2011, http://www.colombopage.com/archive_11A/Jun04_1307164516CH.php

Shamindra Ferdinando: “War crimes: Allegations and wasted opportunities,” Island, 1 September 2015,  http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=130949


[1] I was led to this item this month of December 2019 by my old Aloysian schoolmate, KK de Silva. It is an extract within a longer speech reproduced in Colombo Telegraph on 3rd September2013: see https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lanka-is-one-of-the-peaceful-stable-and-democratically-secured-countries-in-the-world/. I am assuming the Third Seminar was in 2013. I note, here, that it was at the first of these seminars in 2011,  that Col Lawrence Smith from USA made some startling revelations about the war which USA disowned –indicating, perhaps, that the Pentagon and the US State Department did not always work in unison in Sri Lanka (see Ferdinando 2015)

* The highlighting emphasis in the article is my imposition as Editor. readers should visit the original Colombo Telegraph post to absorb the 74 COMMENTS therein….. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lanka-is-one-of-the-peaceful-stable-and-democratically-secured-countries-in-the-world/.

A COMMENT: The Rajapaksa government decreed the war to be a “Humanitarian Operation” — presumably as a propaganda LINE. From the outset i have considered this pitch, this slogan, to be ridiculous. It was the government’s duty on behalf of the majority of its peoples to win the war in accordance with the standard international  principles of warfare. All warfare has deadly aspects to it. To emblazon the sky with the picture “humanitarian” was silly …. and remains silly. as an infantryman, say, one cannot seek to kill in a humanitarian spirit. As propaganda flag-in-sky this line would have generated amusement and been counter-productive.

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, ethnicity, human rights, legal issues, life stories, performance, politIcal discourse, population, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, war reportage, world events & processes

Leave a Reply