West's complicity with Sri Lankan war crimes

Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez, Cuba’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Office at Geneva, argued at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), last March 22, that the United States acted contradictorily when it presented a resolution slightly criticizing Sri Lanka for not having addressed human rights abuse issues during the end of the civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). [1]

Rodríguez ridiculed the US position given that, as he said, 40% of military hardware sold to Sri Lankan governments between 1983 and 2009 (the duration of the war for liberation) came from it and its closest allies, the UK and Israel. [2]

“Why do they doubt Sri Lanka after having sold so many weapons?” Rodríguez inquired. While Cuba backed Sri Lanka 100%, disregarding the plight of over two million Tamils, its ambassador considered the US resolution as “interference” into the affairs of the sovereign state.

An excellent book, Arms Trade with Sri Lanka: global business, local costs [3] put out by the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society  and the Swedish Sri Lanka Committee provides some hard-to-find  figures on what countries provided what armaments to Sri Lanka.

Most of the weaponry that the LTTE acquired came from capturing enemy arms and some were bought on the black market. Sri Lanka bought its weapons from a score of governments of all stripes. The Sinhalese governments spent between 7 and 17% of their budgets on the military during the war.

Between 1999 and 2008, the largest military equipment (towed guns, tanks, fighter and trainer and transport aircraft, helicopters, fast sea craft, mines, radar, missiles and rockets, armored bridge layers, surveillance and communication equipment) came from China and Russia, later also Ukraine and Iran—on the one end of the spectrum—and from the US and nine EU states on the other end. Military suppliers also included Pakistan and India from the middle.

This article focuses on military support the US, EU and Israel provided the repressive Sri Lankan governments. Moreover, the US and EU are Sri Lanka’s greatest economic trading partners.

Israel: 'A faithful supplier of arms'

The Zionist State—which practices genocide against the Palestinians whose right to self-determination was recognized by 46 governments on the HRC during the 19th session with only the US voting against—hardly comes into the spotlight when the Sri Lanka-Tamil conflict is discussed.

Nevertheless, “Israel has been a faithful supplier to Sri Lanka” serving the military, commerce and politics, as the Swedish book maintains.

The most decisive sales and donations in the latter years of war came from Israel (and China). A vast number of combat aircraft—nine of 24 since 2000; 16 Kfir jets in all—and many of the ships (especially six Super Dvora and 38 Shaldag fast patrol craft) used by Sri Lanka came from Israel. It also supplied seven unmanned vehicles, 16 anti-ship mines, communication and surveillance equipment, and great quantities of ammunition; plus pilots and Mossad intelligence agents.

Makhdoom Babar, editor-in-chief of the pro-Sri Lanka government Daily Mail reported that Israel uses Sri Lanka waters to test their missiles. [4]

A 2009 SIPRI report, “International Arms Transfers”, shows that between 2000 and 2007, Sri Lanka acquired “several large warships from India, Israel and the USA”. The Swedish-based international arms conflict monitor reported that Israel has been a major and effective arms supplier. [5]

Economic Union: Violating the 'code of conduct'

EU sale of weaponry to Sri Lanka has violated its code of conduct on arms export since it was enacted in 1998 to prevent aiding and abetting human rights abuse. As if to compensate for its hypocrisy, the EU lifted part of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in August 2010 due to Sri Lanka’s “poor human rights record”. But EU still offers “limited tariff preferences” to Sri Lankan imports.

Despite this lessened export tax break, the EU continued to be a major market (SL largest apparel buyer), and the island’s economy grew by 8%, in 2010, thanks to loans from the IMF.

During the last decade of war, France provided several small sea craft. Czech sold 16 rocket systems and 52 tanks. Slovakia is, after the UK, the only European country that publicizes its military sales to SL after the restart of the war, in 2006. It lists the sale of 10,000 rockets worth £1 million. [6] 

A June 2, 2009 article, “UK sold arms to Sri Lanka during Tamil Tiger conflict”, points out the hypocrisy of European governments in voicing criticism of human rights abuse while they continue to sell arms to the Sri Lankan mass murdering regime. [7]

In 2008, the UK approved £4 million worth of weaponry including armored vehicles, pistols and machine guns, and 12 large naval guns.

At the close of the war, the EU Observer reported:  "The EU is appalled by the loss of innocent civilian lives as a result of the conflict and by the high numbers of casualties, including children, following recent intense fighting in northern Sri Lanka," said European foreign ministers in a statement, 18 May, 2009. [8]

"The EU calls for the alleged violations of these laws to be investigated through an independent inquiry," the statement continued. "Those accountable must be brought to justice."
Nevertheless, EU member states - including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the UK, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland - had armed the Sri Lankan government since the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa, in 2005.

“According to the EU's latest report on arms export licenses published in December, the nine governments authorized arm sales licenses to Sri Lanka to the value of €4.09 million in 2007 [small weapons, ammunition, explosives, missiles, vehicles, naval vessels, aircraft], the same year that Colombo launched its final offensive on the Tamil rebels.”

Australia is among the western suppliers to Sri Lanka. It granted $52.5 million in development assistance (2010-11) [9] plus $11 million to catch criminals including Tamil refugees trying to flee the blood-torn nation.

“U.S. Military Assistance to Countries Using Child Soldiers, 1990-2007”

This Center for Defense Information report (above sub-head) shows how the United States continues to supply military support to many countries, including Sri Lanka, when the government or its paramilitary allies recruit children to war against opponents, despite United Nations ban on such support: [10]
“The U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” shows where it supplied military assistance between 1990 and 2007, and often to states that commit human atrocities: “the United States continues to provide millions of dollars in Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), Excess Defense Articles (EDA), International Military Education and Training (IMET), and Foreign Military Financing (FMF).”

A CDI chart shows that the US sold (or donated) $143 million in military aid to Sri Lanka’s military in the 17-year period. US foreign military sales, in 2007, were $60.8 million—the greatest amount for any single year—plus $1.44 million was spent on military training and financing. Green Berets were used since 1996 in “Operation Balanced Style” to train soldiers.

Contrary to claims that the US cut off military sales or assistance, it has not done so. Between 2007 and 2009, the US sold a few cutters, radar systems, and 300 trucks. It also sold helicopters, some of which were made in Canada. (Canada also sold small arms amounting to less than $1 million in 2007-9.) The US did cut back sales in 2009 but the 2010-12 fiscal year budget calls for nearly $3 million in Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training. [11]

Economic and Military sales and assistance continue despite the fact that the US admits that the Sri Lanka government and its paramilitary allies practice torture, murder, disappearances, child recruiting and other brutalities. The US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report of March 6, 2007 reads:

“The [Sri Lanka] government's respect for the human rights of its citizens declined due in part to the breakdown of the CFA [Cease-Fire Accord of 2002]. Credible sources reported human rights problems, including unlawful killings by government agents, high profile killings by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings by paramilitary forces associated with the government and the LTTE, and disappearances. Human rights monitors also reported arbitrary arrests and detention, poor prison conditions, denial of fair public trial, government corruption and lack of transparency, infringement of religious freedom, infringement of freedom of movement, and discrimination against minorities. There were numerous reports that armed paramilitary groups linked to government security forces participated in armed attacks, some against civilians... the government strengthened emergency regulations that broadened security forces' powers in the arrest without warrant and non-accountable detention of civilians for up to 12 months.” [12]

The US State Department’s April 6, 2011 “Background Note on Sri Lanka” shows that the US has steadily supported Sri Lanka militarily and has benefited economically from trade.

“Exports to the United States, Sri Lanka's most important single-country market, were estimated to be around $1.77 billion for 2010, or 21% of total exports. The United States is Sri Lanka's second-biggest market for garments, taking almost 40% of total garment exports.” [13]

“U.S. assistance has totaled more than $2 billion since Sri Lanka's independence in 1948…In addition the International Broadcast Bureau (IBB)--formerly Voice of America (VOA)--operates a radio-transmitting station in Sri Lanka. The U.S. Armed Forces maintain a limited military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lanka defense establishment.”

Even as it publicly expressed some criticism of Sri Lanka for not implementing its own investigation into possible human rights abuse, the Obama administration backed a $213 million World Bank loan last March for Colombo development.

United States: 'For more capable Sri Lankan military'

In January 2006 - just two months after the Rajapaksa-led government had come to power - then US ambassador, Jeffrey Lunstead, warned the LTTE that if it refused a settlement on Colombo's terms it would face "a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military."

Lunstead added: "Through our military training and assistance programs, including efforts to help with counter-terrorism initiatives and block illegal financial transactions, we are helping to shape the ability of the Sri Lankan government to protect its people and defend its interests."

For such support, Sri Lanka signed the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement in March 2007 that allows US warships and aircraft to use facilities in Sri Lanka. Combined support by the US and its allies, as well as China-Pakistan-Iran immense sums of military armaments, weakened the ability of the LTTE to hold its ground. This led to the “liberation” of Kilinochchi, “the city that for a decade had served as the capital of the LTTE-controlled enclave in parts of the island's north and east,” as Keith Jones wrote. [14]

“Last Wednesday [January 7, 2009], the US embassy in Colombo issued a statement that welcomed the Sri Lankan state's recent victories in the war…and urged Sri Lanka's government and military to press forward with the annihilation of the LTTE. The key passage in the statement read: ‘The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE, a group designated by America as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997.’"

“US pressure was critical in getting Canada, the states of the European Union, and other countries to proscribe the LTTE. These bans have deprived the LTTE of financial support from the hundreds of thousands of Tamils chased from their island homes by the civil war,” Jones continued.

“The new-found prowess of the Sri Lanka military is due almost entirely to the support it has received from Washington directly or from key US allies.”

The United States and its allies did what they could to aid Sri Lanka governments, allowing genocide and aiding in war crimes, and now dawns a façade of “concern for human rights”.


1. http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=65303
2. http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/2012/03/vote-on-l-2-item2-52nd-meeting-19th-session.html
3. http://www.svenskafreds.se/sites/default/files/arms-trade-with-sri-lanka.pdf
4. http://www.dailymailnews.com/dmsp0204/dm44.html
5. http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/files/SIPRIYB0907.pdf - Israel is, in fact, the world’s fourth largest arms seller: $7.3 billion sold in 2010. (http://disarmtheconflict.wordpress.com/israeli-arms/israeli-exports/). The US government is the greatest weapons exporter at $31.6 billion (http://www.warisbusiness.com/2720/research/us-arms-exports-to-the-muslim-world/). Much of the armaments that Israel sells come from the US.
6. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm
7. http://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/britain-sold-arms-to-sri-lanka-during-tamil-tiger-conflict-2216/
8. http://euobserver.com/13/28155
9. http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/sri_lanka/sri_lanka_country_brief.html | “Rudd ignores war crimes and boost ties with Sri Lanka,” Sam King, February 19, 2010
10. http://www.cdi.org/PDFs/CSBillCharts.pdf | The CDI was founded in 1972 as an independent non-NGO monitoring institution of US and international security defense policy.
11. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL31707.pdf
12. http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78875.htm
13. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm
14. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=11769

Ron Ridenour is a veteran journalist and author of nine books, the latest is: “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”