The Sunday Leader

A War Without Witnesses?

By Janith Aranze

It has long been said that the Government of Sri Lanka tried to fight ‘a war without witnesses’ when they ended the country’s 30 year old civil war.  However, Channel 4 has produced a chilling one hour video, which shows government troops executing Tamil prisoners and the terrible crimes carried out by the LTTE in the last stages of the conflict. The video, which is one of the most definitive pieces of evidence to emerge since the war ended, has caused shockwaves within the international community.

The film titled Killing Fields is a documentary showcasing the final weeks of the thirty year long civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The film was shown to the United Nations Human Rights Council, on Friday June 3, and is due to air on Channel 4 on June 14. When The Sunday Leader spoke to Channel 4, they said the film is ‘of great public interest’.  “Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch approached us about screening it at the UN. We agreed as we believe the new prima facie evidence of war crimes featured in the film is of great public interest and as such it deserves a global platform” Marion Bentley, Channel 4 Publicity Manager, told The Sunday Leader.
The film includes interviews with eye-witnesses, new photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage and satellite imagery.  New video footage shows the extra-judicial killing of prisoners; the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian camps and women’s bodies being stripped of their cloths and dumped into trucks by soldiers.  There is also an interview with a woman who, with a group of civilians handed herself and her daughter over to government forces.  She claims that they were both raped, and that she witnessed others being raped as well whilst hearing screaming and shots being fired.  The film provides testimonies from those who bore witness to the events that unfolded during the final stages of the conflict.  It includes the story of a British Sri Lankan who found herself caught up with thousands of displaced people in the government designated ‘no-fire’ zone. She describes how she assisted in makeshift hospitals which should have been off limits from military attack.  She believes it was deliberately shelled and she explains how each time they moved the hospital, they came under fire from heavy artillery.
Though the Government of Sri Lanka has questioned the authenticity of the video footage, Bentley insists the footage has been scrutinized at length.  “The material featured has been treated to objective journalistic rigour. The videos have been scrutinised by well-respected independent experts in the disciplines of forensic pathology and video analysis who have told us they show no signs of manipulation and appear to depict genuine executions,” she said.  Though Channel 4 has presented its evidence to the government, they are still to receive an official response from them. “We sent a substantial letter to the Government of Sri Lanka detailing the significant allegations we intend to broadcast about their actions or omissions. The Sri Lankan government has declined to respond to a single question,” Bentley said.
When The Sunday Leader spoke to Keheliya Rambukwella, Government Spokesman, he said he doubted the authenticity of the video. “When Channel 4 screened these images last year, we immediately rejected the allegations; technically we found them to be false. I have not yet seen the video, but I believe they are using the same footage from before. I don’t believe it has changed,” Rambukwella said.  Though the government is refusing to acknowledge the new evidence that has emerged, there are those within Sri Lankan politics who believe their inaction is doing more harm then good.
“By remaining silent they are definitely damaging the country. They should either come out and prove that this footage is false or if it is proved to be true, the government should lead an investigation into the matter.  We need to come clean in front of the world,” Mangala Samaraweera, UNP MP and a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, told The Sunday Leader.  Samaraweera however refused to comment on the authenticity of the film.  “I really cannot say if it is authentic or not.  With regard to those who are found guilty of war crimes, unlike Gotabaya (Rajapaksa) I am not a judge, nor an executioner.  They should be held up against international laws, first the video needs to be proven or disproven” he said.
M.A. Sumanthiran, Tamil National Alliance MP, reiterated his desire for war crimes claims to be investigated fully. “We have already come out and said that we welcome the recommendations of the UN Panel report.  I have not yet seen this video but these claims need proper investigation,” he said.
Though the UN in Sri Lanka is refusing to comment on the video, UN special investigator into extrajudicial killings, Christof Heynes, believes the video should be taken extremely seriously. “It’s very rare that you have actual footage of people being killed, this is different from CCTV. This is trophy footage,” Heynes told The Associated Press.  Though Heynes acknowledged to the UN HRC in Geneva this week that it is the duty of the State to conduct its own inquiries, and he would be prepared to collaborate fully with them.
If the UN Panel’s report was not enough pressure for the government, Killing Fields has only heightened the sense of urgency for accountability to be properly addressed in Sri Lankan.  Marion Bentley says she hopes the international community will act upon the evidence the film presents. “It is our job as journalists to draw attention to evidence as serious as this. As with all our public interest journalism we would hope that the appropriate authorities follow up on our journalism,” she added. It appears the government has found out that in today’s modern world, fighting a war without witnesses is an impossible task.

23 Comments for “A War Without Witnesses?”

  1. Mark

    It strikes me that the reason why the GOV cannot come clean is that they will indict them selves if they do. Therefore the only course left is to do what the GOV is doing which is to totally reject the whole video as fake. This way they do not have to investigate anything and hope this will go way. Good thinking and logic. Small problem are the busy body Tamil expatriate organizations and some media like channel 4 if only they could be baught or paid off some how the problem is solved. I am being sarcastic of course.

  2. yaksha Deva

    Srilankan Kalu suddahas hold our government to way high standards. They join the western spin mills in spining all in favor of UK agenda of go on dividing peoples.
    Five internal conflicts within India and several within China are directly or indirectly funded by HMG ( her majesty’s govt) .
    Abu Garib in Iraq, Iraqui invasion, drone killings are all ignored by western spin mills.
    The fairy tales of western journalism of paining non corrupt , holy queens of Europe is perpetuated and echoed by kalu suddahs.
    Westerners have ignored treaties all along, killed and engaged in drug trade, genocide all along.
    If the readers care just google ” Americas prioners of War with in USA”.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_huey.html , just copy and paste this in your browser and watch listen.

    • DJ

      and your assertion is?

      All the above justifies the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka?

    • LankaLiar

      Typical Sri Lakan reply. If Hitler and Pol Pot can kill why not Sri Lankans. If Kaddafi can bomb why not Sri Lankan. But the LTTE cannot use this argument. Because they are terrorist. Now work out who the real tourists are. A very shameful act has been carried out in the evil island. Now you are pretending nothing has happened.
      There is a simple way of getting out of this. Just close your eyes. If you can permanently the world would be a better place.

    • Ma-Rout-Ti

      Sorry – no can do – we dont want to find out that the West is holding SL to a double standard – We’d MUCH rather believe that they are nice and holy !

  3. Lankan boy

    This is the worst media article I have ever seen for my life! Are you Sri Lankans? Do you sell your country for money or cheap publicity? Do you form any part of the LTTE? The damage you caused to the country in publishing this kind of articles will reject your paper as rotten garbage. In a juncture of this nature, your duty is not to settle your political agendas, but to safe guard the country. See what US doing. Are they doing what is given in UN mandate? Do you know whet happened to war crime chargers against USA on illegal invasion of Iraq and killing more than 700,000 civilians? Do you know what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Do you know how US and westerns destabilize countries for oil and killing millions of civilians? Why don’t you highlight such things rather than trying to gain cheap popularity? Why don’t you write how LTTE killed innocent civilians in Anuradhapura, Preiests in Aran thalawa, Muslims in chenkalladi, Tamil priests and politicians?

    Disgracefull attempt to achieve cheap, selfish political gains!

    • Roland

      Lankan Boy,

      The media is just trying to teach the people of lanka that this is what happened and will happen for Lankan Tamils.

      • LankaLiar

        Even the Sri Lankans are unable to believe this horror. JR once said ” I saw the beast in man” . We all know which man

    • LankaLiar

      Definitely not a Sri Lankan , because he is not lying. This is a news paper in Sri Lanka that is why he is talking about Sri Lanka. When he writes for US or Afghanistan he will talk about them. Please tell your people to investigate the LTTE who killed at Anuradhapura and the priest. The person who killed surrendered policemen monks are all in the Sri Lankan cabinet. You dare investigate you will see what happens. When a country is not a country this type of arguments are bound to come from its countrymen. There is nothing left to damage the country. Every respect it had is gone. It has become a island of evil where the national language is lies culture is murder and where murderers are hailed as heros. By the way there are many people in Afganistan and USA speaking the truth and promoting peace Can Sri Lanka copy them.

  4. Victim Tamil

    The most cruel war crime, crime aganist humanity, and Genocide of Srilanka state terrorism aganist innocent unarmed eelam tamil civilians( even worse than aganist jews by Nazis in second world war).
    This is a very small part of very long cruelity of Srilankan forces but only this time the world has the opportunity to know it, because of Rajapaksas and Fonsekas internal conflict. Rajapakas can’t escape from this crime aganist only matter of time. Any crime have had clear proofs like these crimes photos, videos, eye witnesses, saterlite images, etc….

  5. These are allegations against certain individuals and a call to the GOSL to co-operate in war-crimes investigation. This is not against Sri Lanka or its citizens. If you claim Rajapaka brothers as the nation of Sri Lanka all these nonsense about “they did it; so, why can’t we” have marginal validity.
    The major issue is — certain persons in Sri Lanka have allegedly committed war crimes and there are hard and credible evidence to support the allegations.
    This is not a media-war against Sri Lanka as several Sri Lankans are led to believe. If this issue is taken lightly, Sri Lanka will embarrass countries that had been our friends in war and have a vested interest in the success of Sri Lanka. This is very damaging to Sri Lanka’s prospects. Besides the country will be categorized among the rogue-nations and that would horribly jeopardize the image and economy of Sri Lanka.
    So, please be responsible and put together an agenda to credibly defend these allegations.

  6. Lankan boy

    Roland, You know only 0.5 of the story. Let this controversal video even be true. There are so many extra judicial killings done by LTTE and this bias and politically focusses selfish media is not talking about that. Look for following -
    1. How many tamil children were focibley taken by LTTE and forced into the war?
    2. How many times they killed sinhalese and muslims civilians in villages?
    3. How many times they used female suicide bombers?
    4. How many times LTTE deployed child soldiers to protect seniors?
    5. Havent you seen the video clip of LTTE shooting civilians trying to escape?
    6. How many civilians were held at gun point by LTTE?

    Let’s see what NATO did -
    1. Have you seen Colateral murder vedio clips in youtube?
    2. Do you know the internationa criminal courts found invasion of Iraq illegal?
    3. Do you know that US and UK still evade chargers?
    4. Do you know that US suspended it membership to evade procecution?
    5. Do you know the number of civilians killed in Iraq are over 700,000?
    6.Do you know that UK also found guilty and Tony Blare is responsible?

    Why double standard to the world? You must fix US and UK before dictating terms. Sri Lanka is an Independent country and have the ability to solve our own issues. May be you did not know that upto 2009, more singhalese people have died in this war than Tamils. The way media says, it sounds as over 80,000 Tamils died. Unfortunatly, due to LTTE action, arround 7000 Tamils tied in 2009. Dont forget the fact that LTTE had heavy wepons within civilians and was using them against SL Army. Refer to US / NATO “Rules of angagement” to know what to do and what SL Army did. SL Army was more decent that US or UK Army.

    HAVE ANY OF YOU EVER HEARD OF ANY PRISNORS CAPTURED BY US / UK ARMY WHILE THEY WERE IN IRAQ OR AFGENISTAN? AM I TO BELIEVE NO ONE SURENDERED? THE REALITY IS THAT THEY FOLLOW A POLICY OF “DONT BRING USELESS PRISNORES” POLICY.

    So fix the big guys first. If replying come-out with facts, Not statements.

    IF THIS VEDIO IS TRUE, ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN. BUT BACK TO THE ARTICLE.

  7. Lankan boy

    Job of the media is to be balance and moderate, but not to support corrupt politicians through their own links.

    Why cant they write what LTTE did for all these days? Simply cause there stand of being “Anti government and selfish stand”

  8. trinco

    To date Janith Aranze has been the most professional journalist in Sri Lanka. He had the guts and conscience to write this great piece of article – please take care of yourself.

    Sri Lanka must investigate these crimes or will be investigated as declared by Robert Blake – US Asst Sec State.

    Please translate this article in Sinhalese.

  9. arunkumar

    If the incident happen in Sri Lanka this way, It should be investigated. Do not get angry with the newspaper articles. There is no policy to kill innocent people as gowernment think. The world isvery carefully watching what is happenning in Srilanka. If you finish war with LTTE let the other Tamils live in their own way. Do not try to boss them. Those days are gone. Big brothers are watching you all around the world using the latest technolegy. No Escape any more . Do not be Racist against Tamils. They are all humans. They all are having their feelings.

  10. Brave face

    The truth will come out one day. No one can hide the truth in this modern world,

  11. Saro

    The police have shown in Katunayake protest of workers that they use lethal force to kill them. In this backdrop it is impossible for the Sri Lankan government to escape responsibility to the ‘credible’ allegations of war crimes and catalogue of violations of HR and international laws. By canvassing support among friendly countries alone will not stop the world body instituting an independent committee to investigate the claims and counter claims.

  12. Upul Fernando

    Well written article.
    I hope the war crimes will be investigated by the UN and appropriate actions will be taken sooner rather than later.

  13. luxman

    Lankan boy,

    You better be a human than the sri lankan.

    you people do know about what has happended in the final battle, but do not want to accepts the truth…. even after seeing all these evidence.

    Let the media to do their unbiased work…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db2noLcizG4&feature=player_embedded

  14. Shiva

    No civilized person on earth will tolerate with war crimes and human rights abuses that must be fully investigated by the Independent International body and those perpetrators must be punished according to the law.

    The Rajapakse regime not only committed crimes against humanity without witnesses but also deny access to independent media, journalists, diplomats, human rights groups and NGOs.

    There is no transparency and cover up of crimes aginst humanity that mus be fully investigated and justice must be delivered to the victims.

  15. anon

    It worked.

  16. dagobert

    Yes Roland………………..If the Tamils do not know to live and let live.
    GOSL was shown the way by thye Western Forces.

  17. Vishal

    This is a domino effect… If both party fight for who is gonna win it shoudnt affect civilians… Raping & executing is not the final anaswer… we all need justice… you cant hide genicide… justice will always win… but we all have to wait

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