Using food and medicine as a weapon of war
Rome statute on 'crimes against humanity' states: "Extermination" includes the intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicine, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.
During the final stages of the war, the entry into the area that the Tamils were enclosed in, whether by sea or by land were controlled completely by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Therefore the obstruction free access to these routes for the purpose of providing food, water and medicine is the government's responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other such international organisations were willing to provide these necessities. However, the Government of Sri Lanka used various ways to justify not sending food and medicine to the Tamil people in the Vanni. Firstly it proclaimed that the LTTE will take these supplies forcibly. Secondly the INGO's that were engaged in attempting to supply humanitarian aid to the people were accused of smuggling arms and sustenance for the LTTE. For example, high protein biscuits for undernourished children by the 'World Food Program' was blocked in January 2008 by the Sri Lankan security forces. The Defence Ministry had blamed the WFP for supplying dry rations for LTTE. Tamils and Sinhalese who worked for the INGO's were faced with continuous harassment and arrest.
Several Foreign Embassies have confirmed the international media reports that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence repeatedly blocked medical supplies arguing that these medicines could be used by LTTE to treat their wounded cadres. The deadly confusion created by the government's dramatically deflated numbers is expressed by the report made by the 'Centre for policy alternatives' during the intense period of war in March 2009. “The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Vanni is also challenged by the Government which insists that there are only 60,000 IDPs. United Nations (UN) Agencies on the other hand initially calculated 200,000-250,000 and are currently in the process of examining if the figure is between 130,000 - 150,000. The District Secretaries of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu put the figure at around 400,000.”
It was not only the UN agencies that were obliged to 'recalculate' because of the Government's brazen lies. Pranab Mukherjee, Indian Home Minister informed the Indian Parliament that there were only 70,000 civilians caught in the conflict zone.
If you take the governments figure of 280,000 people (some reports estimated the figure at over 300,000) who ended up in the camps at the end of the war, add to it the 10,000 people that the government admits to holding in 'unspecified locations' and the 20,000 that were killed only during the last few weeks (according to the British newspaper the Times) and the thousands who escaped the island altogether – the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), and the District Secretariat for Mullaitivu and Killinochi figures seems to be the most accurate.
There is strong evidence to show that the Sri Lankan armed forces went to great lengths to stop the INGO's from taking food and medicine to the Tamil people. Further, the evidence from the reporting shows that the INGO workers accompanying the supplies in many cases did not believe the common reason given by the SL armed forces that the route was too dangerous. Analysis of the news items from the Sri Lankan internet sites and newspapers show that the INGO personnel were not being overly brave or careless – but that they had believed that the Sri Lankan armed forces were just trying to prevent essential supplies from reaching the Tamil civilians for military purposes. Further, the evidence points to the fact that the Sri Lankan armed forces, did, as a rule, use delaying tactics to obstruct supplies reaching those who needed it with desperate urgency.
When several hundreds of thousand of people were trapped in the government declared 'no-fire zones' of a few square Kilometres, the people were solely dependant on outside help for all the basic necessities of life. Even the water had to be brought in from outside. Because of this, the systematic restrictions of food, water and medicine to the people had terrible consequences. Local sources revealed that drugs had not been sent to Mullaitivu and Killinochi district for four months. Hospital sources reported that there was a severe shortage of food and that injured civilians were not receiving proper treatment and surgery - due to attacks on the hospital and non-availability of essential medicines. There was a severe shortage of medicines, particularly anaesthetic drugs, surgical items, intravenous (IV) fluids, IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics, paediatric syrups, Jeevani, ARV, toxoid, and vaccines. Immunization programs had been disrupted for the preceding two months. Sources in the conflict area reported undue deaths due to non-availability of essential drugs at Mullaittivu in a letter to the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition. Sources also reported being unable to provide even lifesaving emergency surgery. Amputations were commonly performed without anaesthetics. Tetanus vaccine, critical for combat related wounds were not available. Generally non-fatal injuries and illnesses became deadly. Because of the knowledge that there were virtually no medicines in the hospitals and that hospitals themselves were under attack many injured were unwilling to be taken to hospitals and lay sometimes on the street enduring unbearable pain. A witness released from an IDP camp in September reported that in the final weeks of the conflict, doctors in the Mullivaikkal hospital had to operate with butchers' knives and watered-down anaesthetics, with replacement blood running out, staff filtered what they could from the patients’ own blood through a cloth before feeding it back into their veins. Because of lack of space in the hospitals, seriously injured people lay on the ground outside the hospitals with just tarpaulin and polythene sheets for cover. Thousands of people simply died on the streets.
Children, elderly, and the seriously ill were particularly at risk for starvation. Water available from open wells and provided by bowsers (water delivery trucks) was insufficient to meet the population’s needs. People waited in long lines for an extended duration even to collect a few pots of water provided at 10 operational sites. 69% of children were severely malnourished. An organization’s source in Valayanmadam reported that six people were in a coma from eating poisonous plants, and people dying of starvation was a normality.
Several hundred thousand Tamil people who had, during the period of the peace process just a few years before, lived in their homes, in an area of over 10,000 square Kilometres, were now trapped in an area of a few sq. meters. They were continuously bombarded from all sides with artillery fire and air raids, blocked from receiving food, water, medicine had to face physical and psychological torment. A whole population was subjected to seemingly endless suffering. Clearly this comes in the ambit of 'crimes against humanity' as described in the Rome Statute Article 7, paragraph 1 (b), (h) and (k):
Article 7 - Crimes against humanity
1. For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
Photos: Deprivation of food and drinking water