Thursday, June 16, 2011

Plowing through Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

My Sri Lankan friends are angry that UK’s Channel 4 has dug up old graves in a time when Sri Lanka is moving towards normalcy. But just because things in Sri Lanka have improved on paper doesn’t mean those who have committed atrocities should be allowed to escape. Where is justice if we all turn a blind eye to such war crimes?

Channel 4 ran a documentary on June 14 called Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields and that’s what it was all about: capturing Tamil prisoners, stripping them down, blindfolding them with their hands tied behind their back and shooting them at point blank range and then enjoying the game like it was a target practice on a dart board.

For the women it was much worse as most of them were raped and then killed. The image of a Tamil news presenter first at work on TV and then her naked corpse in the field keeps resurfacing in my head all day long.

Although Channel 4’s Jon Snow warned us that the scenes would be gruesome, it was horrendous. The mobile phone footage showed a series of live executions of Tamil prisoners, and the soldiers even kicked and abused the raped and mutilated bodies, filmed as trophy footage by the killers. They also gave advice to each other on where to aim and how to shoot.

I have seen some real vile footage of war crimes during my years at City University – footage that was too violent to ever make it on television. Yet, I couldn’t see the entire documentary without squirming in my seat.
Amnesty International puts the civilian casualty figure around 40,000 in the last violent phase of Sri Lankan civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lankan government did not allow any reporters near the war zone to camouflage the death and destruction from the rest of the world. But even the LTTE used civilians as shields to protect themselves from the army in turn causing their deaths. Atrocities were committed by both the parties in their quest to win and innocent civilians lost their lives.

Sri Lankan forced shelled hospitals and civilian camps in areas they marked as “no-fire zones”. The UN’s report published earlier this year agrees that there are “credible reports” of war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government’s army against the country’s Tamil civilians.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields was premiered at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday June 3. Its audience: ambassadors and delegations from the UK, US, India, France, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, Mexico and Finland.

Many asked why air this footage in the UK, to an audience so detached from the Asian sub-continent. But again UK has political clout. A day later, the Prime Minister, David Cameron told the parliament that “Sri Lankan government needs to be investigated”.  Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said "if the Sri Lankan government does not respond we will support the international community in revisiting all options available to press the Sri Lankan Government to fulfil its obligations."

It remains to be seen with the protests and civil war going on in the Middle East now, how much the international community responds to the plea for a probe into Sri Lanka’s war crimes of 2-3 years ago.
But if we don’t raise a voice now, when will we?

The film will be available to global audience for seven days from15 June at:

Warning: Not for the weak hearted!

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