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Sri Lanka: Are we calling it a war crime yet?

August 27, 2009

“Sri Lanka rejects accuracy of footage showing ‘execution’ of Tamils by troops”

Sri Lanka denied that its troops were involved in war crimes against Tamils after a video surfaced allegedly showing a government soldier shooting two naked men in the back of the head. The footage, shown on British and Indian television, showed a man in a distinctive army uniform shooting the men.

“Is this evidence of Sri Lankan ‘war crimes’?” **with video**

Channel 4 news show footage claimed to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils in January. Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which obtained the material, said it was filmed in January when the international media were prevented by the Sri Lankan government from covering the conflict zone.

“Video that reveals truth of Sri Lankan ‘war crimes’”

A phone video that was smuggled into Europe bolsters claims that Sri Lankan soldiers murdered Tamil prisoners.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2009 12:07 pm

    I take it you like the Tamil Tiger terrorists?

  2. empressmuhammad permalink*
    August 27, 2009 5:31 pm

    I take it you are obviously incapable of having an intellectual discussion about the issue.

  3. errwhateverz permalink*
    August 27, 2009 5:42 pm

    I think what the empress meant to say was, care to expand on that jonolan?

  4. August 27, 2009 5:52 pm

    The videos were of terrorists being summarily executed under military justice, something that is entirely legal under the international rules of war.

    You started off by describing it as war crimes. Who’s lacking in intellectual capacity to discuss the issue?

  5. greylag permalink
    August 27, 2009 6:33 pm

    For the first time in decades people aren’t getting blown up in Sri Lanka. Why does everyone seem upset that these criminals were defeated ?

  6. empressmuhammad permalink*
    August 27, 2009 9:33 pm

    The defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who, yes, like any military organisation engaged in acts which illegitimately caused innocent civilian life to be lost, was achieved through force which caused massive civilian loss of life. To this day the Sri Lankan government still leaves hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned in camps in which conditions are attrocious and deteriorating [] . Hopefully most people find this unacceptable.

    It is possible to hold a view in which the Tamil Tigers can be considered to have committed crimes (e.g. allegedly using civilians as shields), but which also considers some actions of the Sri Lankan government to have been unacceptable, disproportionate, and quite possibly war crimes. If this video is also confirmed to be true then it would without doubt be a war crime since the summary execution of prisoners is a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and a war crime It would also provide further concrete evidence that Sri Lankan government behaved in a way which trivialised both human life, international law and the rules of war.

    My own view is it is important that any and all war crimes are recognised as such, but unfortunately rarely is this the case. I also think it is just as, if not more, important that this is upheld when relatively powerful actors e.g. a state are fighting a relatively less powerful actor e.g. a resistance organisation (or even a terrorist group which I suspect is a term you would prefer).

    I hope you keep checking our blog as hopefully you might learn something you didnt get from Fox News.

    I cant promise to respond to any future commnets, as though im happy to engage in serious debate, this is not it. peace out.

  7. August 27, 2009 10:00 pm


    Summary execution of “Prisoners of War” is a violation Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949; summary execution of a criminal in an area under martial law isn’t. Unless the victims could be proven to be valid Prisoners of War as opposed to merely criminals, there’s no crime.

    To be Prisoners of War and benefit from the protections of the Geneva Convention the victims must meet the criteria of Article 4 of that treaty:

    Article 4

    A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

    1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

    2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

    (a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

    (b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

    (c) That of carrying arms openly;

    (d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

    3. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

    4. Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

    5. Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

    6. Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

    B. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:

    1. Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country, if the occupying Power considers it necessary by reason of such allegiance to intern them, even though it has originally liberated them while hostilities were going on outside the territory it occupies, in particular where such persons have made an unsuccessful attempt to rejoin the armed forces to which they belong and which are engaged in combat, or where they fail to comply with a summons made to them with a view to internment.

    2. The persons belonging to one of the categories enumerated in the present Article, who have been received by neutral or non-belligerent Powers on their territory and whom these Powers are required to intern under international law, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment which these Powers may choose to give and with the exception of Articles 8, 10, 15, 30, fifth paragraph, 58-67, 92, 126 and, where diplomatic relations exist between the Parties to the conflict and the neutral or non-belligerent Power concerned, those Articles concerning the Protecting Power. Where such diplomatic relations exist, the Parties to a conflict on whom these persons depend shall be allowed to perform towards them the functions of a Protecting Power as provided in the present Convention, without prejudice to the functions which these Parties normally exercise in conformity with diplomatic and consular usage and treaties.

    C. This Article shall in no way affect the status of medical personnel and chaplains as provided for in Article 33 of the present Convention.

    Can you tell me that the Tamil Tigers met these criteria?

  8. snugglebus permalink*
    August 27, 2009 10:35 pm

    Jonolan your impulse to speak out on behalf of voiceless perpertrators of arbitrary “military justice” was enough to send me straight to ebay and order you a “Honk for Waterboarding” bumper sticker to show my appreciation. All good and decent people everywhere applaud you for putting your time and internet connection to such good work. Please keep it up!

  9. errwhateverz permalink*
    August 27, 2009 11:01 pm

    Jonalan, its nice to see posts getting responses, so in this sense it is great to hear from you! The comments section will I hope be a great place to develop and challenge the ideas presented in posts.

    If I represent your views correctly, you believe that even if this video proves to be true it would not be a war crime because the Tamil Tigers are a terrorist organisation whose members as such could not qualify as Prisoners of War. They are not therefore covered by the Geneva Convention, and are subject to more contigent forms of ‘justice’. If so your views read like a briefing prepared by Donald Rumsfeld 🙂 Alas (for you) times change.

    I think we should resist the temptation to have a semantic argument here (I say semantic because your argument rests on several definitions, for example the status of the Tamil Tigers – e.g. are they a “militia” of an “organized resistance movement”; what it means to “fulfil the following coniditions” etc). Its not really what this space is for as it wont be developing or taking forward any of the ideas in a meaningful way, and it won’t be testing the ‘intellectual capacity’ of anyone!

  10. August 28, 2009 10:58 am

    Translation – opinion in disagreement and backed up by international law have no place here. Gotcha. No problem.

  11. errwhateverz permalink*
    August 28, 2009 12:13 pm

    Not really jonolan. The disagreement here really pivots about vaguer ideas of justice, but is being played out on the proxy terrain of international law. As you revealed with your first comment “I take it you like the Tamil Tiger terrorists?”, your view is that as ‘terrorists’ they are bad and anything that happens to them is ok.

    If the author disagrees with this view, as I think it is clear they do, the argument will go on and on with you trying to define the Tigers outside the bounds of international law, and the author should they engage with you trying to define them within it; all the while both of your “first-principle” commitments, your main motivating concerns, really have nothing to do with international law per se. That would make it a pointless argument.

    If you don’t like the post, or don’t like what you sense are the views that lie behind it, you are welcome to write a post on your own blog setting out the your own alternative view about resistance/terrorist organisations, with particular reference to the Tamil Tigers, the legitimacy of their struggle, and what action is or is not justified etc.

    We are an elitist bunch and hard to please, but you seem like a relatively educated guy so if what you wrote was thought worthwhile we would be happy to link to it, and someone from here might be motivated to respond. Might as well have the debate at a more constructive level.

  12. August 28, 2009 2:21 pm

    The author couched her complaint as “war crimes” and cited the Geneva Convention. That strongly implies that the “first principle” is legality.

    But, given your expanded response and your encouragement for me to go elsewhere I’m left with the same translation – dissent is unwelcome here, at least by you.

    As for my own views on things like the Tigers – I firmly believe that they and their supporters should be exterminated in the name of public health in the same fashion that we would exterminate any nest of disease carrying vermin.

    But…that’s a personal view and one that cannot be implemented because it goes far outside the law and to start down that path opens the door for worse things than even the terrorists.

  13. errwhateverz permalink*
    August 28, 2009 4:55 pm

    I take back the ‘relatively educated’ comment

  14. August 28, 2009 5:33 pm

    Of course you do; it’d be impossible for you to believe that a man with multiple degrees could hold beliefs so counter to your own.


  15. SadEye permalink
    August 29, 2009 2:40 pm


    “I firmly believe that they and their supporters should be exterminated in the name of public health in the same fashion that we would exterminate any nest of disease carrying vermin.”

    Sounds kinda like Hitler. Are you Hitler jonolan? Do you like eating Tamil babies for breakfast?

    I don’t agree with the Tamil Tiger, although I do think the Tamils have rights on the issue. But positions like yours jonolan, are seriously retarded. How can I sympathize with the Sri Lanka when what they did was wrong. Jonolan, get over yourself and sallow your pride for a moment, and take into fact that what the government did was “fucked up”. Security does not justify Executions and oppression of another group, surly you can understand that concept. And surly if the tables were turned on your ass, I wouldn’t be that surprised if you supported the tactics that the Tamils used against the government.
    So wipe that smug tone from your posts, and don’t you speak of the right to dissent when yourself aren’t giving it to others because baby, we are all vermins in the end.

  16. SadEye permalink
    August 29, 2009 2:42 pm

    mind the misspellings by the way, its been a long week.

  17. August 29, 2009 3:06 pm


    Executing terrorists and their supporters is hardly oppression.

    Now if those being executed were just random civilians and the action a deliberate genocide of the Tamils, then the story is different and it is the Sri Lankan government and the participating soldiers who should be exterminated.

    That wasn’t presented as an alternative though in the videos or the post.

  18. August 29, 2009 3:25 pm

    BTW – the typing is a total non-issue with me. My hands are not anywhere close to what they used to and I use a auto-correcting spellchecker to help me – and it screws up more than I’s like.

  19. SadEye permalink
    August 30, 2009 5:51 pm


    Executing whoever without legal due process is a form of oppression, even if it involves the execution terrorist or not. And you sound educated, so you would be aware that one terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so such didactic of “lets exterminate terrorists” is silly. Things are not simple. You can agree with that. Now turn the tables, again if the footage were of Tamils executing Soliders you would have a strong position against it, wouldn’t you.

    There has been reports from a number of NGOs, and media personnel within the country and without that have indicated major foul play by the Sri Lankian government during the battle against the tigers, and the reports on the camps for the Tamils have been very dismal. On the legality front, the problem of international law is its ability to be flexible in interpretation, so you for example can interpret it one way while others different…so it makes it easier for nations like Sri Lanka, or Israel, or Morocco, or Turkey, or etc to commit immoral crimes under the pretext of security and sovereignty. Jonolan, you’ve got to be more clever than that, and I know from reading your posts that you are a clever one.

    The ultimate point of the post, is the sanctity and dignity of life, and the protection of rights. Lets be very blunt for the moment: so far, Sri Lanka has foolishly not been “awesome” in maintaining and protecting the rights of the Tamils, to the point where support for the Tigers grew, this is akin to many ethno-national conflicts around the world. Ask yourself this seriously, do you care for the future of your country? if yes, the first thing one must do is come to terms with the flaws of the country, and the flaws of your own position and accept the view point of the other.

    Again, your statements above of “exterminating vermin” is highly worrying, because you have dehumanized the other, a tactic that makes it easier to accept the slaughter of the other. Understand that the Tamils, “terrorist” or whatnot, do have rights, do have certain needs that should be catered too…of course not to the point of hurting others, but I digress.

    So I understand your mentality, but I strongly do not agree because it does not help anyone in the end. Overall, i do think that what is the problem is the concept of the nation-state that does create conflicts like this one, and positions like yours, but that is a bigger and more abstract issue to ponder over.

  20. August 30, 2009 8:07 pm


    No; if the tables had been turned I would not have been especially outraged. A soldier is a valid target. Such treatment, if captured by the enemy, was least of what I expected when I was in combat.

    As for terrorist v. freedom fighter – that, in my mind is dependent upon the behavior and methodologies used by those combatants.

    As for dehumanizing terrorists – you could see it that way. i see it as accepting that they have willingly abrogated their own humanity and have become something that cannot be fought as men fight, but must be instead exterminated for the public good.

    As for the nation-state being the problem – I somewhat agree. Current national borders breed these conflicts because they often no longer correspond to age-old ethnic borders. They are instead artificial constructs often create by largely disinterested third parties.


  1. Sri Lanka: Postcolonialism, nationalism and the Tamil « Err…whateverz

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