Reporting on rival claims of casualty figures can easily deteriorate into a sort of score card which looses sight of the individual human tragedy. Each missing person has a family that needs some certainty in order to be able to mourn.
But some idea of the overall scale of the killing – however approximate – is also important.
In Sri Lanka the government now says some 7000 people died in the final phase of the civil war, having initially said there were no civilian deaths whatsoever.
The UN Panel of Experts however found that reports of up to 40,000 dead were credible.
A Catholic Bishop has raised disturbing questions about 147,000 missing people.
During the war the government doctors did keep casualty lists, though these only covered the injured and dead brought to makeshift clinics. People with very grave injuries were often not taken to hospital ; first aid volunteers had to make spot decisions about prioritising those who had a chance of survival because they were overwhelmed and many wouldn’t survive the journey on the back of a motorcycle.
The United Nations also collected long distance casualty data by telephone from trusted sources (their own Tamil staff, local NGOs, clergymen, doctors) in the war zone. This is often referred to as an estimate but in actual fact it was a count, albeit a partial one.
Collected below are some of the partial LISTS of casualties and attacks that have been compiled. There is still no authoritative death toll yet for the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Surely the dead deserve that.
The United Nations has a list (referred to in Wikileaks cables) of the names of the dead and injured that it counted long distance during the war. It has not been made public.
The Sri Lankan government has a list of everyone they still hold in detention. Despite many calls for the names to be made public, they have not been released. Without this information it is hard for the families of the disappeared to have any closure. They keep on hoping their son or daughter might be held somewhere in a detention camp.