LTTE War Crimes : Another Witness – Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch

Anna Neistat Senior Research of the Human Rights Watch was interviewed by Steve Paikin through the tv program ‘The Agenda with Steve Paikin” in 2009. The allegations by Anna Neistat re-establishes and reiterates as well as reconfirms of LTTE war crimes in forcibly keeping civilians without allowing them to escape to safety, shooting civilians who tried to escape, keeping civilians as hostages and in front of LTTE positions, keeping LTTE arms and equipment amongst the civilians and firing from amongst civilians including hospitals. These are clear violations of Geneva Conventions for which LTTE stands guilty and cannot be downplayed by ‘both sides to blame’ song.

Anna Neistat during the interview with Steve Paikin

  • “In the conflict zone.. more than 200,000 are trapped”
  • “On the one hand LTTE does not allow them to leave”
  • We documented cases where LTTE shot at people trying to leave the area” – at which time Steve Paikin intervenes and asks “Just to get this clear, Tamil Tigers fired at Tamils in order to prevent them from leaving, is that what you are saying” and Anna Neistat’s response was “Absolutely yes and that is one of the greatest problems right now”
  • “When we are advocating for humanitarian borders to allow civilians to leave, LTTE is a big part of the problem”.
  • “They do not allow civilians to leave”
  • They do not want civilians to leave”
  • “We have documented cases when LTTE used civilians as circled human shields to protect their positions from attack”
  • “They (LTTE) placed their positions in front of the camps of the displaced persons and hospitals – This is plainly speaking a WAR CRIME”

At this point Steve Paikin passes the mike to David Poopalapillai, National Spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress.

David Poopalapillai’s response was that the Sri Lankan army wore LTTE uniforms and killing civilians and putting the blame of the tigers.

David Poopalapillai’s response to Anna Niestat’s accusations were that HRW were not on the ground (neither was David Poopalapillai speaking all the way from Canada) and that HRW had gone only upto Vavuniya and heard the evidence from there.

Steve Paikin returns the mike to Anna and asks whether David Poopalapillai’s position possible to which her response is “I assume the Tamil civilians can tell a Sri Lankan soldier from an LTTE cadre”. She goes on to say that what HRW documented were not from Sinhalese propaganda but from people who were trapped, those who tried to free themselves or those who lost families or neighbors.

Steve Paikin next passes the mike to Lenin Benedict of the Canadian Democratic Tamil Cultural Association.

Lenin Benedicts views were that even the UN had given a very clear statement and he quotes from it “LTTE prevents people leaving, and reports indicate a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot at and sometimes killed”

Canadian Tamil Congress

Incidentally, the CTC is declared a front organization of the LTTE and is banned by the GOSL under the UN Resolution 1373. CTC contributed Canadian dollars 50,000 to Amnesty International in January 2012.

David Poopalapillai is said to be one of the suspects reported to have close links to the LTTE hierarchy in Vanni. There is an ongoing investigation to CTC facilitating the multi-million dollar LTTE run human smuggling operations by MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea wherein over 200 LTTE cadres are said to have been smuggled out of Sri Lanka along with their families. CTC is also accused as providing legal and financial aid to the LTTE crew and passengers projecting them as bonafide refugees and not terrorists. Gary Anandasangaree of CTC had provided legal counsel who is said to have masterminded the CTC campaign to vilify Jo Becker, the Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of HRW who exposed LTTE’s extortion of the Diaspora.

A report by the National Post of Canada revealed that “Canada’s Tamil community has been among the LTTE’s largest sources of funds, having contributed up to $10-to $12-million annually in past years,”

Why Anna Neistat was banned

Anna Neistat was accused of entering the IDP cams in Vavuniya without clearance and preparing a 45page report. She has been accused of violating Sri Lanka’s immigration and emigration laws. Nevertheless, the interview statements made by Anna Neistat not only collaborates with witness accounts but even UN reports while links of UN Colombo officials with the LTTE rump remains an area that the UN system should investigate if as they claim their concern is with the innocent civilians and not whitewashing LTTE combatants.

What we can draw from the interview

  1. LTTE forcefully took civilians. This took place not in 2009 but far earlier and the UN was well aware of this with UN offices and other INGOs stationed in the areas under LTTE defacto control. UN and INGOs were in a better position to know how many civilians were taken too. It questions why the UN Colombo office did not inform UN New York/Geneva of this looming catastrophe and why they did not take action by making public announcements with regard to LTTE forcibly taking people with them
  2. LTTE held civilians as hostages, as human shields and kept their positions behind civilians and even fired from amidst civilians as well as near hospitals. So on the one hand the UN Colombo keeps silent on LTTE taking people, keeps silent on LTTE using civilians and firing from amongst them but cries foul when Sri Lankan troops return fire. Do we really know if the UN Colombo office properly indicated to the Sri Lankan troops the ground realities or were themselves part of the problem. These are questions for the OHCHR Panel to respond to without bias.
  3. LTTE fired as civilians attempting to flee – why has this aspect been downplayed internationally other than a handful of people referring to this. If LTTE had been firing at civilians and had killed civilians, how many civilians are we to presume died because of LTTE firing at them? Why are those who are making guestimates about the civilians killed not using a single line to say how many civilians the LTTE killed while they were trying to escape and more importantly where are their bodies – a question posed for those still counting the dead!
  4. No civilians – No Humanitarian Aid Access. The logic is simple. If there were no civilians the GOSL is not required to provide any humanitarian relief access leave alone relief. So now we can understand why some entities kept quiet as the LTTE took large numbers of civilians with them. We can now understand why they did not make a huge uproar about civilians been taken and we can now understand why civilian figures kept on being inflated. It was solely to ensure that civilians were buffer stock, insurance for LTTE to ensure that relief was sent, ensure that messages could be passed so that some sort of arrangement could be made to save the tiger and to ensure that the families of the LTTE and hopefully LTTE members themselves could escape as ‘civilians’. Which happened and the case of Vani Kumar immediate comes to mind. She pretended to be a ‘civilian’ but was a member of the Tamil  Youth Organization and had come to Sri Lanka in 2008 and was given LTTE military training but had managed to get the UK embassy to secure her safe passage out and back to the UK where she was one of the prime ‘witnesses’ of the Channel 4 claiming to have helped Dr. Shanmugarajah mix blood with water and save patients. The same Vani Kumar says this of the LTTE on C4 infamous noble award winning film “[The LTTE] don’t want to kill their own people, they were fighting for them, they worked so hard to save their people”. She also denied LTTE shelled civilians. She categorically and repeatedly rejected LTTE used civilians as human shields. In fact Vani Kumar refused to accept there were human shields “[p]eople chose to stay…Nobody wanted to run away. It wasn’t like the LTTE kept them. The people chose to stay.” So according to Anna Niestat of the HRW LTTE kept civilians and shot and killed them while Britisher Vani Kumar says the civilians chose to stay with the LTTE out of their own choice. Meanwhile, from the UN Secretary General to various other foreign leaders made desperate appeals to the LTTE to release civilians. Was this a big charade? Who do we believe?
  5. The Humanitarian Disaster Situation appears to have been created
  6. If the UN Colombo knew about LTTE’s decision to take civilians as buffer stock far before August 2008 the UN Colombo should have done something about it. When UN keeps hidden documents without releasing them and then comes up with reports to fault UN for failing to protect civilians because the intent is to subtly reject the 7721 civilian death figure quoted by the UN Country Team, we smell more than something fishy.
  7. If the LTTE had not kept civilians there would be no humanitarian disaster situation or the need for a humanitarian rescue operation. The LTTE should have not functioned as cowards.

What we need to deduce is that it has become a sport to flog Sri Lanka and its troops to distract attention from the guilt of those paid to do their work as international bodies and seriously questions exactly what they had been doing stationed in the North!

– by Shenali D Waduge