Editor's note: The video at the end of this story contains graphic images; viewer's discretion is advised.
Chennai: The latest Channel 4 documentary on alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan army in the last phase of its war against LTTE, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished has visuals and evidence that names and shames President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his defence secretary brother.
The heart-rending cries ofra children, men and women; brutalised and maimed in the war; and cold executions of naked and bound men and women that we saw in the first edition of the film, broadcast a year ago, continues in this film.
If the first episode tore the veneer of the dressed-up success story that Sri Lanka celebrated, this one seeks to systematically build up a case of war crimes by Sri Lankan government; or more precisely by the Rajapaksa brothers, who were at the “highest echelons of the chain of command.”
It is not one case that the film advances, but four: “the deliberate heavy shelling of civilians and a hospital in the 'No Fire Zone'; the strategic denial of food and medicines to hundreds and thousands of trapped civilians — defying the legal obligation to allow humanitarian aid into a war zone; the killing of civilians during the 'rescue mission'; and the systematic execution of naked and bound LTTE prisoners”
The film argues through documentary evidence, video footage, US diplomatic cables; UN reports and soundbites, including those by David Miliband, who undertook a mission to Colombo at the height of the war, and the then head of UN humanitarian operations, Sir John Holmes.
The most chilling visual is the execution of a kid — 12-year-old Balakandar, son of LTTE chief Veluppillai Prabhakaran. Balakandar lay dead with sharp bullet wounds on his chest, fired from very close range as certified by a forensic expert, surrounded by five bleeding, naked bodies of his bodyguards.
The forensic expert believes that the child could have undergone psychological torture by being a witness to the killing of his bodyguards. The channel says it has a sworn affidavit of an officer who said that the child along with his bodyguards were sent to the army to surrender, but they were interrogated to get the whereabouts of Prabhakaran before being shot.
The film also shows the near-naked body of Prabhakaran with a gaping bullet wound on his head, subsequently smeared with mud. The footage also shows brain samples being collected from his head. The forensic expert says that he appeared to have been killed by a high-velocity single shot when he was not moving. Means, perhaps he was captured alive or surrendered and shot dead.
The other cases show how the government allegedly starved the Tamil population trapped in the no-fire zone by hugely underestimating their numbers and hence disallowing food supply. Instead of 300,000 people, as estimated by the UN and others, the government said there were only 60,000. Miliband says on camera that 60,000 people required 30 tonnes of food a day, but between 1 and 25 April, they were supplied only 60 tonnes . In other words, 300,000 people had to survive for three weeks on food that could feed less than one third of them for two days.
The visuals of emaciated people, particularly those heavily injured, corroborate the argument. Zam Zarifi of Amnesty International says: “International law forbids medieval sieges. You cannot subject people to hunger, famine or plague as a means of military victory.”
Regarding shelling civilian populations, on which the film provides new evidence, Miliband touches upon a crucial angle to counter the argument that they had been held as human shields by the LTTE: “Democratic governments are held to higher standards than terrorist organisation.
The film calls for “robust enquiries and vigorous cross examination” of the culprits. The government has apparently sent out the two top army men who were responsible for the operations on plum diplomatic assignments - one in London and the other at the UN in New York - ostensibly to immunise them diplomatically.
“This was a proper piece of journalism that asked serious questions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence secretary — questions that should be asked in a war crimes trial. A depressing, numbing film that rang on long after the final credits rolled,” is how The Guardian described the film.
“Certainly by the end, there seemed no doubt that the government had indeed set up special no-fire zones for Tamil civilians — and then fired on them with heavy weaponry. According to a secret UN report, the “probability” that the government had done the shelling was “100 per cent”. Even so, anybody hoping for the triumph of natural justice was in for a disappointment. When we last saw President Rajapaksa, he was cheerfully greeting the Queen at last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Australia. He also looked pretty happy that the next conference will be held in Sri Lanka,” said The Telegraph.
The ravaged, wounded and brutalised refugees, constantly on the move in rags and their desperate cries; and the swagger of the impudent Rajapaksa brothers are too hard to ignore. In the film, Mahinda Rajapska thunders at his UN speech after the war victory: “Imported external solutions breed resentment, and will fail. Ours was a home-grown process.”
The film informs us that Mahinda's UN speech was written by a British public relations company.