Revelations in Britain: Lord Naseby undermines the received ‘Wisdom’ on Civilian Deaths

Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph

Michael the Lord Naseby has set a cat among the British and international pigeons by extricating the reports of Lt. Col. Anton Gash (Defence Attache at the UK High Commission in Colombo in 2009) and presenting a summary review to the House of Lords. By immediately deploying Mandy Clark to interview Lord Naseby, Padma Rao Sundarji, the Foreign Editor of India’s first global channel, WION, drew upon his views and findings for the benefit of the world. This is something of a media coup.

                                                                                         Padma Rao Sundarji

Lt. Col Anton Gash in another setting –

In this excursus, Lord Naseby tells everyone that he went through the redacted documents very carefully and reached the following conclusions:

  1. That the Government of Sri Lanka did not set out to kill the Tamil civilians who were being held in LTTE territory as human shields.
  2. That there is “every indication” that there were about 7,000 civilians killed and not the figure of 40,000 that has been widely proclaimed on the basis of “a guess” in the Darusman Report [also known as the UNPoE];[1]
  3. That the Defence Attache estimated that about one-fourth of those killed would have been Tamil Tigers because many LTTE soldiers had “thrown away” their uniforms;
  4. That some of the civilian deaths were the result of Tiger gunfire.[2]

He also stressed that he had approached a group of university teachers in what he described as “a left-wing organisation” [that is, the organisation known as the UTHR] and their estimate was 7,000 civilian dead;[3] while the US Ambassador Blake had estimated a death toll of 5000 civilians on the eve of his departure from the post in Sri Lanka.

 Demonstrations in London in 2009

Both Naseby and the WION coverage were careful to indicate that these findings do not mean that the killing of certain Tiger officials who had revealed a readiness to surrender should not be investigated and charges laid. That noted, the coverage ended its tale by (a) emphasising the impact of large numbers of Tamil migrants in UK and the “intransigence” cultivated on this issue in the British arena and (b) focusing on the issues arising from continuing displays of the LTTE flag and the commemoration of its leader in the streets of UK and (c) intimating a concern that the British police tolerated such ostentatious displays by what was widely deemed to be a “terrorist organisation.” The background images at this stage of the coverage depicted Tiger fighters in battle gear and included close-ups of Velupillai Pirapāharan engaged in military activity.

One of the more significant facets of this WION video clip was the opening pitch of its male presenter who indicated that Lord Naseby’s findings “would be music to the ears of Colombo.” But even more striking was the headline text embedded within the video clip: viz. WION SPECIAL REPORT: UN FUDGED CASUALTIES.

Tiger fighter in civvies firing a ZU-23 heavy machine gun- Pic from Mango 2013

A Comment

There is more than enough ground to consider that the review of Eelam War IV by the United Nation Panel of Experts chaired by Darusman was a flawed exercise because (a) of its slipshod methodology; (b) the ideological orientations of one of its members Yasmin Sooka and (c) the dictates of powers-behind-the scenes in the UN and USA.

But the world witnessed another singular travesty in the months and years that followed this report. The Darusman Panel’s claim (in its para 137 on page 41) that “a number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 deaths” became a definitive fact of 40,000 deaths in many quarters. This figure was touted assertively not only in respectable media outlets such as Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but also in the writings and pronouncements of political scientists, HRW agencies and frontline politicians in the Western world. One arm of Amnesty International even altered the words “credible allegations’ into “credible evidence.”[4]

In brief, one witnessed a propaganda marvel. The WION commentary identifies the influence of the Tamil migrants in Britain and their constituency power in generating such an impact. That is certainly one reason. But I suggest that we need to look beyond this current of influence and stress the interests of powerful players in the international order desirous of regime change in Sri Lanka.

But beyond that I reiterate a reasoned surmise that I presented in 2013 when reviewing a major (and neglected) study by Citizen Silva: namely that “such spokespersons are motivated by moral rage and retributive justice. They seek regime change in Sri Lanka – a form of 21st century evangelism that is imperialist in character and effect.”[5]

One cannot forget that the Charles Petrie report speculated that “more than 70,000 people may have been killed during approximately the last 6 months of the conflict”[6] and that Frances Harrison, ex-BBC and a HR campaigner subsequently, touted a wide range of figures in her influential book Not Counting the Dead: skipping gaily from 40,000 to 55,000 to 100,000.[7] That Yasmin Sooka had a podium role in the launching of this book is as significant as revealing. We see here a campaign mounted by like-minds located in some ideological cave in the Siberian tundra.

Sackur, Keenan, Solheim & Sooka at panel discussion on launch of NOT COUNTING THE DEAD–Pic from TamilNet =

But what of the British intelligentsia and UK’s educated public? Did any voice raise a fundamental question: if there were 40,000 dead, how many wounded were there in hospitals or wherever?[8] The wounded invariably outnumber the dead in any battle theatre. In the limited physical space of the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 8,709 Australians were killed (KIA) and 19,441 were wounded (WIA), making the ratio of WIA to KIA 2.23.[9] Ratios can vary in some measure in different warring scenarios, but the WIA is invariably higher than KIA and sometimes even over three-fold or four-fold. The US armed forces suffered these casualties respectively in the Korean War (1950-53) and the wars in Vietnam (1964-73):[10]

Korea      =   33,651 KIA against 103,284 WIA = so ratio = 1:2.8

Vietnam =   58,220 KIA against 153,303 WIA = so ratio = 1:2.6.

The blindness on this score in UK and the western world has been monumental. It appears that the Foreign Office and parliamentary circles in UK did not possess any persons with experience in war and that media personnel with a modicum of experience, such as the reporter Kate Adie for example, stayed silent.

The British ruling class is not that comprehensively ignorant. Such a measure of imbecility suggests that other factors directed the public readings of the Sri Lankan war in British governing circles. As I have never been in the position of a fly in the British offices and clubs of power, I cannot provide even a glimmer of an answer to the glaring question that arises.

Lord Michael Naseby has been one of the exceptions in this British firmament and he is better placed to point us towards the answers to my question.

  *** ***

Schematic Map from Daily Mirror, 24 April 2009,  revealing the April Army Operation and the Number of Tamils (civilians and fighters in civvies) who reached govt terrain

Images of Escapees at various stages and different settings

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY … note vital articles: emphasis in red

[Adie] 2014, “Kate Adie of BBC: reporting on war & women at war,” 2 January 2014,

Citizen Silva [also IDAG] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice, OR

Ferdinando, Shamindra 2017 “Baron Naseby and The Merry-Go-Round in Sri Lankan Politics, 1975-2017,” 25 October 2017,

Harrison, Frances 2012 Not Counting the Dead. Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War, London, Portobello Books.

Harshula 2011 “When allegations become evidence,” 6 June 2011,

Kunanayakam, Tamara, 2016 “OHCHR: An Un Bureaucratic Arm that is USA’s Sword,” 9 February 2016,

Lewinski 2017 “Jorge Lewinski’s The Camera at War” and Other Achievements,” 8 November 2017,

Mango 2013  KIA:WIA Ratios – Conjuring With The Dead And Ignoring The Wounded,” 8 April 2013,

Mango 2014 “Sri Lanka’s War In Its Last Phase: Where WIA Figures Defeat The Gross KIA Estimates,” 14 February 2014,

Marga 2011 An Analysis and Evaluation of The Report of the Advisory Panel to the UNSG nn the Final Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Marga 2014 Issues of Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Narendran, Rajasingham 2014 “Harsh Ground Realities in War: Decomposing Bodies and Missing Persons and Soldiers,” 28 January 2014,

Noble, Kath  2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The full monty,” 14 July 2013,

Padraig Colman 2013 “Deadly Accountancy. Part I,” 13 April 2013, … followed by two Other Parts.

Peiris, Gerald 2014 “Pitfalls in Counting the Dead during the Final Phase of Eelam War IV,” 12 February 2014,

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2013 “Making Sense of a War,” 20 February 2013,

Roberts, Michael 2017 “Revisiting Critical Issues in Eelam War IV: Summarizing Citizen Silva’s ‘The Numbers Game’,” 10 November 2017,

Roberts, Michael 2013Estimates of the Tamil Civilian Death Toll during the Last Phase of Eelam War IV in 2009: Appendix I for ‘BBC Blind’,”

Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,”

Roberts, Michael 2013 “Pictorial Illustrations of the Mass Exodus from the Last Redoubt, 20-22 April and mid-May 2009: Appendix V for “BBC Blind”,

Roberts, Michael 2014 The War in Sri Lanka and Post-War Propaganda,” [being the Memorandum to Sandra Beidas and OISL Team in Geneva]  18 November 2014, reproduced in

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates,” 18 November 2014,

Shanmugarajah, V. 2014 “Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah’s Affidavit Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel Four,” 5 January 2014,

TamilNet 2012 “Solheim’s politics, UN role in SL criticized at Frances Harrison’s book launch event,” 20 October 2012,

Thuppahi 2012 “Government Census on War Deaths in 2009: Two Reports,” 26 February 2012,

Times 2011 “TIMES Aerial Images, NFZ Last Redoubt, 23 May 2009,” photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

Thangavelu, Velupillai 2013 “LTTE Cadres Who Surrendered to The Army: Where Are They?” Colombo Telegraph, 18 August 2013,

UTHR 2009 A Marred Victory and a Defeat pregnant with Meaning, Special Report No. 32.

UTHR 2009 Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34

Sri Lanka Government 2013 “The Last Phase,” video film,

Weiss, Gordon 2011 “Sri Lanka faces its ‘Srebrenica moment’,” The Australian, 23 April 2011,


[1] The panel was appointed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secy-Genl, and was composed of three lawyers, viz., Marzuki Darusman, Yasmin Sooka and Steven R. Ratner with Darusman as Chair. They did not visit the island. Their report is entitled Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka and was released on 31st March 2011.

[2] “As indicated by testimonies collected by the UTHR(J) and other evidence, the LTTE went beyond the use of civilians as cover to the actual shelling of their own people on some occasions in order to cry “humanitarian disaster” – Roberts, “Revisiting,” 11 Nov. 2017.

[3] The UTHR presented a number of estimates on this issue and several of their early reports quoted higher figures (see Roberts, on Numbers Game, 2017). I presume that Naseby contacted one of its key members more recently.

[4] See Harshula 2012 for this facet and other illustrations.

[5] Also available at Roberts, “Revisiting,” 2017 (

[6] As noted in the Wikipedia summary —

[7] Note review of the book by Muralidhar Reddy 2013.

[8] As it happens, the UN personnel in Colombo computed figures for the wounded in hospitals and detention centres during the months of May-June 2009. This computation is referred to in passing by the UNPoE: The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count.” [paragraph 134, UNPoE]. The Darusman team do not seem to have grasped the significance of these figures.

[9] See Roberts, “A Drama in Four Acts,” 2015.

[10] Figures from

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *