More than 65,000 deaths! Is it correct? How about injured? Disappeared?
By Lakshan Dias
War is neither event of words nor its takes place within a stadium, where it is limited to certain boundaries with non-tangible volumes. Instead it takes the entire space of the world as its battleground and giving prominence to certain strategic areas as war fronts. This is valid to protracted civil war in Sri Lanka irrespective of its size compare to the war in Iraq. There won’t be wars that David or Goliath type that decided the fate of their nations. Strategic interests of the warring parties drags war beyond its traditional limits and drag all kind of things from Ekle broom to A380 aircraft. Generally a war affected any one irrespective of whether they are related or unrelated. Even though warring party’s eulogies their own achievements in many way lost are the most visible factor in post war situations. I brought this introduction to project on irrationality in the commonly use Casualty count (death count) of Sri Lankan Civil War. Very recently BBC reported that Iraq war caused 650,000 deaths at a rate of 500 lives per day since American forces invade Iraq 4 years back. They further say that 80 % of the Iraqi people feel that it’s not a safe place to live. Also they reported that there are nearly 2 Million people living in Syria it self as refugees. “What’s the use of these figures after people have lost their lives” is a thought that some one may raise obviously. In a counter argument some other person may raise an other argument that support casualty count as these figures will help to project the brutality and inhuman behavior of warring parties to all humankind towards prevention of such things in future.
As they did in Iraq, Its essential for us to find out what’s the real casualty count of Sri Lankan Civil war. For last ten years writers, NGOs, international community and government of Sri Lanka and foreign governments read the casualty count as “ more than 65,000 lives “ as human levy. How did they calculate the casualty numbers can be an interesting matter to discuss for all interested parties and here with I share some facts that Iraq death count used as supporting facts to initiate such a discourse.
[750 friends and parents of the disappeared participated in a silent demonstration held near the Monument for the Disappeared, despite heavy rain throughout the day-Oct 27, 2006: HA]
The project in Iraq calls “Iraq body Count” Project counted those attributable to coalition and insurgent military action, sectarian violence and increased criminal violence. The project uses reports from English-language news media (including Arabic media translated into English). Again the same organisation lament that “It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war.” Another project done by “The Lancet” propose more horrendus information on the same matter. “The Lancet” is one of the oldest peer-reviewed medical journals in the world, published weekly by Elsevier. Estimates of casualty levels are available from reporters on the scene, from officials of involved organizations, and from groups that summarize information on incidents reported in the news media. There is a vast contrast in Iraq death total in these two repoerts. These eestimates range from approximately 60,000 civilian deaths (Iraq Body Count project) to 655,000 total excess deaths due to the war (second Lancet survey of mortality). Its true that we cannot get most accurate results but we need to present a clear total based one or other indicators.
The word “casualties” in its most general sense includes the injured as well as the dead.
One prime concern is that we need to pay attention is what are the indicators that we are going to use to describe casualties in our casualty count. Is it only those injuries serious enough to put a combatant out of commission be counted? or does illnesses or injuries caused by accidents in north and east count? or those who wounded by hostile engagements and bomb blasts ? or dissapearances in colombo or children and mothers died due malnutrition in wanni destrcit or border villages are also counted?
These casualty figures wont cause any negative impression to the seriousness and the negative impact of the war if the numbers are smaller, but the numbers will clearly indicate the real cost, which is much higher than we expect. In Sri Lanka we are living with many very old figures. Some people argue war doesn’t exceeding traffic deaths or deaths by suicide, but the difference is, in the war majority of these casualties are not just accidents but deliberate actions against humanity whether its malnutrition or bomb blast. Many deaths are unreported, and to include those deaths not directly attributable to violence but nevertheless the result of the conflict through indirect means, such as starvation by food shotages and embargoes, snakes bites due to spending inghts in the bushes for life threats by warring parties in the war torn areas, deaths due to lack of transporatation and or unavailability of medical care etc, need to be count as casualties and human cost of the War. Eg: the baseline mortality rate calculated in the war torn destricts prior to conflcit the can be compare with the excess mortality rate during the conflcit and out come may be attributed to the presence of the conflict, directly or indirectly. In this way the human cost of the war will raise in to higher numbers. These numbers needs to be audit constantly and open to public for further additions and amendments.
We all know that people are dying every day but some times various groups with ulterior motives trying to narrows downs those casualties as damages to the enemies by using patriotism. Attitude and mindset changes can be promote by proper casualty count, as it will open a national discourse of casualties and indicators. There are jokes that if some one counts all Sri Lankan State media figures for last 30 years then total will out numbers entire Tamil population in Sri Lanka and good amount of Tamilnadu population as well. These are expressions of sarcastic nature and doubts of people on the Human cost of War. At the moment the figure remains as more than 65000 and it can be 200,000 or 65001as its so wage. As well as Iraq in Sri Lanka also there are plenty of unreported deaths and casualties specially the injuries. Victims are just neglected if they are not combatants. Civilians paid the high price and even they are not properly compensated and counted in the large picture. Only small family circles know that they were victimized.
In the case of JVP insurrection1989-90 it was better reported and it was exploited politically due to its access to southern mindsets, which holds the hegemony of internal media output. The figure has been scanned and 60,000 disappeared or killed was the balance sheet for three years of state and non-state horror. The present conflict is hinders that credibility due to ethnic nature of the conflict as figures are many times cooked and bias towards each end. In the other hand the unforgotten factors such as Muslims are also having figures and casualties of their own which was not counted or taken seriously. There are many incidents that para-militaries involved in killings and killing individuals, does not taken seriously in some isolated incidents.
“An estimated 65,000 people were killed in fighting before the cease-fire, and at least 4,000 fighters and civilians are estimated to have died in the last 18 months”. AP news 28/3. Above is an AP introduction to the Sri Lankan civil war and it’s the usual format to introduce Sri Lankan war by almost all. Nobody seems to be seriously thinking on his or her figures and just follow the figures available, which is very much outdated and uncompleted. Many INGOs and foreign media now come out with an “attractive” figure of 4000 deaths as human cost for last 18 months and failed to add at least that 4000 to the yester years figures which raise the total up 69000. This is more than calculating error but lack of seriousness and sensitivity. Four years old current Draffur out break in Sudan is reported differently in the international Media, it says according to Sudan’s government, 9,000 people have been killed; most NGOs use 200,000 to over 400,000, as the figure. Sri lankan NGOs with much sophstication failed to clearly project the correct casualty figuer is an unfortunate situation.
This miscalculation is dire unjust to the all kind of victims including those who were tortured, killed and raped and died. Sri Lankan society especially NGOS has to come out with scientific and as far as accurate figures with the support of local and international media. With all the incidents that taken place since 1983 July massacre need to be seriously analyze and it will for sure increase the casualty totals in to above 100,000 or much higher than that. Some times we may not be able to immediately come out with accurate figures but we cant start with questioning and challenging the outdated figures quote by the media, and the state and other actors. We can raise our doubts of their source of information, and challenge of their inaccuracy and insensitivity to the issues and indicators that they reach to those conclusions. Its worth create our own discipline that when ever we mention about Ethnic issue to highlight that there are large number of undocumented victims and un reported deaths which can be much higher than we think.
This kind of new approach will create new discourse on War and its negative impacts and will also challenge the mindset of peoples. (courtesy Wikipedia).
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