Response to further excesses by Gordon Weiss in the Australian media
I read with some disappointment the account of your interview with
Gordon Weiss regarding the situation in Sri Lanka in 2009. I believe, it
was published on May 16. ABC then interviewed me on May 17, but I have
not been informed as yet as to when that interview will be broadcast. I
am also disappointed that, contrary to assurances given, ABC will not be
supplying us with a copy or a transcript of the full interview. I
believe the principle of freedom of information requires this, and it is
sad to see a media outfit not prepared to ensure a fair playing field.
With regard to Weiss’ comments, I believe the following annotations
might be useful to your readers -
Businesses have opened new opportunities for IDPs. Picture by
“Mark Colvin: It’s two years this week since the Sri Lankan Army
finally defeated the Tamil Tigers to end a war that had lasted three
But the passage of time has not answered the questions that were
being asked even then.
In fact three weeks ago a UN expert panel said allegations of war
crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers were
credible and could lead to formal charges.”
The Panel was charged to advise the Secretary General on action to be
taken with regard to accountability. It was not required to investigate,
and it has not done so. Repeating allegations made by others is of
course acceptable if it wished to advise the Secretary General that
these should be investigated, but to judge these ‘credible’ is strange,
since hardly any evidence is provided for these claims. Where there is
purported evidence, it is shoddy and shaky, as when an earlier report of
the Secretary General is cited, whereas the particular paragraphs
mentioned referred to actions of the LTTE.
“The report said the government carried out large scale shelling of
No Fire Zones and also systematically shelled hospitals and food
No Fire Zones
There is no evidence provided of systematic shelling, and indeed the
claim of the Panel that all hospitals in the Vanni were shelled is
obviously false, perhaps arising from ignorance on the part of the Panel
as to what the Vanni includes. As head of the Peace Secretariat I
monitored all reports on Tamilnet, and found that there were no
allegations at all with regard to hospitals during the operations that
took control of the Western part of the Vanni, extending to the LTTE
capital of Kilinochchi. There were just two or three allegations with
regard even to the hospital in Kilinochchi - which the government paid
for and supplied throughout - and these referred to shells falling in
the vicinity with just one in the courtyard.
With regard to the No Fire Zones, the first allegations of government
shelling occurred in late January, and we were advised about this by the
UN. Later that day, the UN Resident Coordinator reported that their
information was that most of the shelling had come from the LTTE, and
the Bishop of Jaffna requested the LTTE to move its heavy weaponry out
of the No Fire Zone, to which it seemed to have transferred it soon
after the NFZ was declared.
“It also condemned the Tamil Tigers for stopping civilians from
fleeing and shooting some to keep them from escaping.”
It is a great pity that such condemnation was not more forthright and
unequivocal in 2009, when this might have actually helped the victims.
“Gordon Weiss was an Australian UN worker in Sri Lanka and now he’s
written a book about what happened called The Cage.
Our conversation began with events back in the early months of 2009.
Gordon Weiss: The Army of Sri Lanka had bottled up the Tamil Tiger
rebels in a small patch of land on the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka
and they were closing in on them relentlessly.
Along with the Tamil Tigers they had also snared some 330,000
civilians whom the Tamil Tigers were essentially keeping as a buffer
against the full-on assault of the government.
Mark Colvin: So really the Tamil Tigers were using the civilians as a
Gordon Weiss: Mmm, absolutely. They were using them as a human
shield. In fact there are now well documented cases of the Tamil Tigers
shooting people who tried to escape the siege zone.”
Gordon Weiss did not unequivocally condemn this use of human shields
by the Tigers at the time, and indeed I complained about him on several
occasions to the UN head, who sometimes said he had been misquoted, and
once just said, ‘Oh, Gordon,’ in a tone of infinite weariness.
“Mark Colvin: And there’s no point gilding the lily with the Tamil
Tigers is there? I mean they were a pretty vicious group.
Gordon Weiss: Not at all. They were brutal. They had a long history
of carrying out suicide attacks that directly targeted civilians. They
had chosen to use terrorist tactics for a homeland in northern Sri
Mark Colvin: So then what happens? They’re all trapped, not just the
Tamil Tigers but as you say more than 300,000 civilians on this neck of
land. What happens then?
Gordon Weiss: Well the assaults went on. Tens of thousands of people
were released in batches or at least managed to escape until eventually
the Tamil Tigers were surrounded, those who remained including the
leader of the Tamil Tigers Velupillai Prabhakaran, on a small patch of
land, along with still tens of thousands of civilians inside this small
patch of land.”
This is misleading. No one was released by the Tigers. About 50,000
had managed to get away in the eight months before April 2009, both to
the West and the South and the North of the Vanni, but it was only after
a careful operation by our forces - following several ceasefires to
allow people out, which was not permitted - that over 100,000 streamed
To be continued