Sri Lanka: International rights experts start counting the dead

A group of award-winning scientists with experience in providing credible evidence to international criminal tribunals have launched an initiative to calculate the total number of casualties in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war that culminated in a massacre ten years ago.

San Fransisco based Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) have joined hands with International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in a worldwide appeal to collect the names of the conflict dead to estimate the final death toll.

Last month, the two organizations had estimated that 500 Tamils who surrendered to the military disappeared just within 48 hours.

Open appeal

HRDAG consists of statisticians and mathematicians who have nearly three decades of expertise in many countries where grave human rights violations have been committed including Guatemala, Columbia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor.


Data collected and analysed by them have helped International Criminal Courts, Truth Commissions and Non-Governmental Organisations.

In an appeal to individuals and organisations inside and outside Sri Lanka, HRDAG and ITJP have requested to share existing casualty lists and go out and record new ones.

HRDAG says that the collated information will be used to compile a final estimate the number of dead including the unnamed.

“The goal of this project is to determine the total magnitude of deaths, both the people we can identify and the dark figure of those who we cannot identify,” said HRDAG Research Director Patrick Ball.

“The work has been very important to have a lot of impact in trials, in truth commissions and in establishing a strong memory of deaths in the past”.

The UN has estimated the war dead in Sri Lanka to be between 40,000 and 70,000. In a report to the Sri Lanka Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2011 Catholic Bishop Rayappu Joseph from war torn Mannar calculated the number of missing to be over 140,000.  The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) estimates that at least 20,000 have disappeared in the war an its aftermath.


Sri Lanka government maintains that its war in the north was a “Humanitarian Operation” with “Zero Casualties”. The LLRC in its final report declined to state a figure claiming that government officials were unable to carry out any assessment of civilian casualties under the circumstances of conflict.

“it is absolutely shocking after so many years passed that we are no closer to understanding what that death toll actually is,” said ITJP Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

“We at least owe the dead the courtesy of collecting their names. The scale of human loss is important to quantify and the final list of names which we will collate can also inform the memorialization process which is key for communities.”

HRDAG and ITJP urge Tamils all round the world in the next few months to speak to their families, their friends, and their neighbours to collect the names of the dead and send it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

They have also suggested a format that can be used to record the information.

The Counting the Dead initiative assures that source or sender of the information will be kept confidential.