Practice Relating to Rule 15. The Principle of Precautions in Attack
In 2011, in its Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis July 2006–May 2009, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence stated:
162. While the Humanitarian Operation in the East was reaching its climax, it was decided to open a frontage in the Wanni theatre. … The operation in the Wanni was launched on 5 March 2007.
163. … Built up areas were carefully avoided in keeping with the “Zero Civilian Casualty” policy that had been adopted. Before the campaign began, substantial work was done to identify locations where the civilian population resided, with the assistance of public servants in those areas, to avoid making them conflict zones. Such areas were comprehensively avoided even after the civilians had left.
164. Security Forces operations were carried out by small groups … [T]ask oriented training imparted on small groups on Forward Observer duties … proved very effective in their ability to call for accurate indirect fire when such was required, greatly increasing the effectiveness of fire and reducing casualties to civilians and own troops.The demand for Armour fire support was also reduced as a result of the small group operations, which in turn greatly reduced the risk of causing civilian casualties.
168. … All available high tech resources including highly experienced and skilled personnel ensured precision targeting of military objectives, which minimised collateral damage.
The Ministry of Defence also stated:
184. The Humanitarian Operation that commenced in Mavil Aru, converted itself to a civilian rescue mission in the last phases of the war …
195. Information relating to hostages was gathered with the means of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] footage that was received by Security Forces, as well as through military intelligence and civilian sources and through international networks. Civilians who crossed over were debriefed by Security Forces. This exercise was carried out to ascertain the factual situation even though it was exceptionally challenging to access all the necessary information in order to assess the full factual picture, including the imminence of the deadly threat. The prime consideration was to minimise the risk to civilian lives in planning strategy.
196. With the utilisation of this information meticulous pre-planning was carried out prior to commencing each phase of the rescue operation. The chief objective being the minimising of casualties, the following strategies were adopted:
d. Snipers were constantly used since the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] were intermingling with civilians. This had a tremendous impact on the civilians as they observed that the targets taken were the LTTE combatants engaged in the act of firing, and Security Forces carefully avoided the civilians in the vicinity.
The Ministry of Defence further stated:
X. General Operational Procedures and Preparations to Safeguard Civilian Lives
A. General Procedures
216. In advance of the Humanitarian Operation, Security Forces underwent extensive training and preparation tailored to achieve a high standard of protection for civilians and to minimise civilian casualties.
B. Sri Lanka Army
223. Training focused on improving of individual and small unit skills as well as efficiency and effectiveness of supporting elements, which paid dividends in minimising collateral damage. Focused training programmes such as Advance Infantry Platoon Training (AIPT) and Special Infantry Operation Training (SIOT) to develop small group skills contributed significantly to identify precise targets during the Humanitarian Operation.
227. Accurate Battle Damage Assessment was carried out to minimise collateral damage and to maintain effective engagement against identified LTTE targets.
228. Multiple warnings for civilians were provided as needed prior to attacks, and used sophisticated technology to confirm the departure of civilians and minimise collateral damage.
D. Sri Lanka Air Force
238. Presence of civilian population was thoroughly investigated from informants, captured LTTE cadres, and whenever possible from Security Forces who penetrated into enemy territory, once areas for engagement were received. In cases where the slightest doubts were present, such places were avoided.
The Ministry of Defence further stated: “On 18 May 2009, Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE, bringing to an end three decades of conflict and suffering.”
In 2012, in its fifth periodic report to the Human Rights Committee, Sri Lanka stated:
The GoSL [Government of Sri Lanka] acted with restraint to protect civilians throughout the Humanitarian Operation. A “zero civilian casualty” policy was adopted, and Security Forces made every effort to minimize collateral damage during the armed conflict.
Sri Lanka also stated:
Nearly 300,000 civilians were successfully rescued from LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] captivity during the operation. The conduct of military operations in a manner as to avoid civilian casualties in line with GoSL policy and to rescue as many civilians from a virtual hostage situation meant that the conflict continued for a greater duration.