Sri Lanka's Continued Ethnic Cleansing ...
- after Tamil Armed Resistance Ends on 17 May 2009
- the Record Speaks...
Tamil medics under detention by Sri Lanka recant "There
are very significant grounds to question whether these statements
were voluntary" says Amnesty International Charles Haviland,
BBC, 9 July 2009
The doctors, who are still in detention, said they were
threatened by rebels
Five doctors who worked in Sri Lanka's combat zone in the last weeks
of the war say they exaggerated figures for civilian casualties.
They did so, they told reporters, because of pressure on them from
the Tamil Tiger rebels, who controlled the area where they were
Sri Lanka's government declared victory in its war with Tamil Tigers
in May. The five have been in detention since then, but say
they have been under no pressure to recant.
The appearance before reporters was an extraordinary event, which
took place at the Sri Lankan government's Media Centre for National
The centre is usually a venue for military spokesmen to talk about
Sri Lankan war matters. The doctors were introduced not by
government officials but by a Mr J Yogaraj, who described himself as
a freelance journalist.
He said that two of the doctors belonged to the Tamil Tigers'
medical corps, while the other three were government appointees.
One by one they said they had overstated the civilian casualties
during interviews with reporters during the fighting because they
were told to by the rebels.
Regularly during the war some of the doctors said people had died in
shelling which appeared to come from government-controlled
The five doctors remain in government detention.
But in this public recantation, they looked calm and well-groomed,
wearing immaculate shirts and ties, even nervously smiling.
One, though, Dr T Varatharajah, had his arm in a sling because, he
said, of a shell injury sustained just before the doctors crossed to
government-held land on 15 May, three days before the military
declared all-out victory.
"Every day the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) people came to the hospital, they
gave the list," he said. "This amount got injured, this amount dead,
this area shells fell. We had to tell that list. Read it out. The
list was wrong, exaggerated number."
Dr V Shanmugarajah said that on one day, some 60 people were killed
but they were instructed by the rebels to say 1,000 were dead.
He and his colleagues said they believed a total of 600-700
civilians had been killed, and nearly twice that injured, between
the start of January and the end of the war.
United Nations figures for those killed are roughly 10 times higher,
while on 12 May the Red Cross said it had evacuated nearly 14,000
sick or wounded people and their relatives since mid-February.
Dr Varatharajah said it was not in fact true that a hospital had
been shelled in an incident in early February. The International
Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, who had staff on
the ground, both said that it was, with the ICRC saying nine people
Indeed the doctors now say medical facilities were little damaged
The medics also said shortages of food and medicine in the war zone
arose only because the Tamil Tigers appropriated large quantities.
"Do you now regret giving false information?" one pro-government
journalist asked later.
"Yes, of course we regret it," said Dr V Satyamoorthy.
He said there was no pressure being exerted on them; Sri Lanka was a
democratic country and they were no longer lying.
But the changed nature of the information they gave is leading some
to speculate otherwise.
"There are very significant grounds to question whether these
statements were voluntary, and they raise serious concerns whether
the doctors were subjected to ill-treatment during weeks of
detention," said the human-rights group Amnesty International.
A United Nations spokesman in Sri Lanka said the UN stood by its own
statements on casualties.
The doctors' immediate future is uncertain.
Although they say they were speaking under Tamil Tiger pressure,
last week a senior presidential aide said they could not be allowed
to "go scot-free" as they had been "lying through their teeth".
Last month a minister said they were suspected of "collaboration"
with the Tigers and were being investigated on those lines.