This is a blog published today which I wrote for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Like all crimes, it was all supposed to be conducted in secret.
In September 2008, as Sri Lankan government forces pushed the fighters of the Tamil Tigers further and further back into the Tamil homelands of the north, the government ordered the UN to evacuate their last few international workers from Kilinochchi, the Tigers' de facto capital.
The reason, they said, was they could no longer guarantee their safety.
The real reason was far less honorable: They did not want any witnesses to what was coming.
One of the UN staff, communications Officer Benjamin Dix, recalls how distressed and angry they felt. A mood which was not improved by the celebratory party the UN threw for them when they escaped the war zone.
“I remember feeling pretty disgusted by that party. I didn't see that there was anything there to celebrate. What we had actually done was complete abandonment of our duty of protection of civilians in a conflict situation,” he said.
The next day Dix resigned from his post. But even he had no idea just how catastrophic that abandonment was, how awful was the disaster that was about to befall the people left behind.
With the UN out of the region, with international media excluded and local journalists and critics silenced, exiled, disappeared or in fear of their life, the government felt ready to launch the final offensive.
On January 2, 2009, Kilinochchi fell. Between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians were on the run, fleeing further into the Tiger-held territory. But they were fleeing into a terrible trap – a trap which would see tens of thousands of them die, mostly (as a UN panel of experts later concluded) as a result of targeted government shelling.