Counting the Dead and Paying the Cost

The Daily Mirror reported last week that between November 30 and December 10, the government would carry out a census of those who were killed or who had disappeared, during the war years – July 1983 to May 2009. The subject dealt elsewhere in writings as the numbers game.


For those affected or accused it is no game. The impact is quite serious. The LLRC recommended were ,’ Conduct a professionally designed household survey covering all affected families in all parts of the island to ascertain first hand the scale and circumstances of death and injury to civilians, as well as damage to property during the period of the conflict.

The progress has been – Using data on ‘Population and Housing Census 2012′ covering the entire country including North and East Provinces for the first time since 1981, Department of Census and Statistics is taking following initial steps to conduct a survey on affected families.

Steering committee comprising senior officers of relevant Ministries and Agencies meets fortnightly to discuss activities related to the census on death/injuries to persons and property damages due to conflict.

The methodology suitable to conduct the census was devised and data collection forms were designed. Both were pre-tested in selected GN divisions in Vavuniya, Polonnaruwa and Mullativu districts in order to cover different conflict situations since 1982.

The outcome of the pre-test was evaluated by DCS working group. Final draft to be submitted. Department of Census and Statistics is planning to conduct an Economic Survey covering entire country which will generate most of data on the affected families.

The second LLRC recommendations was to ,’Take all necessary measures for implementation of the [Registration of Deaths Act] at the administrative level.. Give adequate publicity to the relevant provisions of the Act through media, Grama Niladharis etc., especially in the conflict affected areas.’

The progress has been-During 2011, 37 and 761 deaths were registered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces respectively. In 2012, these numbers were 38 and 801. In addition, 29 mobile services were held during 2011 in various DSDs in North and East to issue death certificates. Services were also held in Mullaitivu District Secretariat in September 2012.

Secretary Ministry of Defence

The Secretary Minsitry of Defence has stated that a comprehensive survey conducted by the government in the Northern region at the conclusion of the conflict placed the number of dead and missing during the final phase at 7,400 and 2,600, respectively. The 7,400 dead included those who died fighting for the LTTE, he said. Responding to a query, he said of the 2,600 missing, 1,600 had been with the LTTE, whereas only 438 disappeared in areas under military control. The Defence Secretary insisted that there had been only in 28 cases in which security forces were directly blamed for the disappearances.

UN Working Group on Dissapearances


The response or lack or responses recorded by the Working Group on Dissapearances is in large measure due to breakdown of communication internally within Government as well with Geneva. Many of the numbers go back a long time.


The question of numbers of those killed or reported missing continues to be at the core of arguments calling for accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It could in fact result in another vote when the Council convenes in March in Geneva.

The report last week of another census spanning the period 1983-2009 is welcome and holisitic in coverage. It does raise two questions. i.e. the cause of death and intent of action which led to it and methods of reparation. We do not as yet have a method to compute reparation. The current Chief Justice did author a paper on restorative justice presented at a workshop which though is not currently available in the public domain.

The South African working definition of reparation was based on redress, restitution, rehabilitation, restoration of dignity, and re-assurance of non-recurrence.

The policy provided for two reasons why reparations were needed. It provided that there could be no healing without adequate reparation and rehabilitation measures. The second reason provided by the policy was that reparations were necessary to counterbalance amnesty. It further emphasised South Africa’s international obligation to provide victims of human rights abuses with fair and adequate compensation. Five principles guided the development of the RRC’s reparations and rehabilitation policy. These principles include: urgent interim reparations, individual reparations grants, symbolic reparations, community rehabilitation, and institutional reform

In 2003 the South African government decided to provide victims with a one-time payment of R30, 000. It further stated that community reparations and assistance would be made available with the remaining funds in the President’s Fund.

The South African example is one which provides good food for thought. We would need to define our policy and reasoning.

The losses in SL if we were to look at 1983-2009 were due to actions of Government forces , para military forces and non- state actors. Combatants of the Government ,non-state actors and civilians suffered. While the State has since 1983 had a policy of compensation we have had no avenues for contributions by those outside of the state.

True healing in SL would come when all who contributed become investors in the process of healing. The Treasury allocated funds for Defence. In many instances Tamil groups raised finances for actions of Non State actors. If the Government were to determine reparation it would be equally attractive if the groups who funded the fighting against the State were to come forward to join the larger process of national reparation. In many countries funds originally earmarked to fund fighting in SL lie frozen caught up with anti- terrorism legislation. It is not impossible for such funds to be released to support reparation in a mechanism administered by unimpeachable individuals to a very stringent , fair and transparent criteria and processes.

SL does not have a policy nor recommendations to deal with the cost we intend counting very soon. It is hoped this piece would act to stimulate the discussion be it for Policy, Principles or Practice.

Jeevan Thiagarajah

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