Friday, December 03, 2010

Sri Lanka 'war crimes' video: who are these men?

Channel 4

The UN has told Channel 4 News that the Sri Lanka apparent execution video, broadcast on Tuesday, deserves further investigation.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Heyns, said: "It is shocking indeed, and clearly deserves more investigation," he said.

Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA), told Channel 4 News the video was prima facie evidence of war crimes being committed.

"This is a very disturbing video and clearly, on the face of it, shows war crimes have been committed and perhaps crimes against humanity, depending on who the group targeted was.

"There is no question that this video is prima facie evidence that these crimes were committed. And therefore there's a responsibility on the part of the international community to push for an investigation and prosecution."

The video appears to show government troops executing civilians in the last few weeks of the 26-year Sri Lanka war, which ended last year when Sri Lanka declared victory over the Tamil Tigers.

The men are pictured here for the first time in both still images and video.

One soldier is seen to shoot one of the bound and blindfolded prisoners in the leg as he lies amongst the bodies of other Tamil prisoners on the ground. The soldier is then seen to walk away and turns directly to the camera. His image is briefly out of camera shot behind another soldier before he appears again close to camera - his face and moustache clearly visible.

The deeply distressing video, excerpts of which were first shown by Channel 4 News this week, then shows what appears to be a Sri Lankan soldier dressed in camoflage shooting another prisoner directly in the head. This would appear to be an execution.

The IBA's Mark Ellis said: "International law is very clear. This does not stop with the soldier. It must move up through command - so cases can be made at the individuals whose faces are shown but also possibly at their commanders if they are military forces.

"It is possible for a case to be brought to the President, if he knew or should have known what was happening in this conflict."

The video is a longer version of one which already sparked a United Nations (UN) investigation 16 months ago when it first came to light.

Channel 4 News has sent the new video to the UN panel investigating allegations of war cimes in Sri Lanka.

Defence Secretary visit

President Rajapakse visited the Defence Secretary Liam Fox on Wednesday for a private meeting at the MoD. Dr Fox's spokesman declined to comment further on the controversial meeting, but a statement on President Rajapakshe's website said the pair discussed "aspects of the wider sharing of power in Sri Lanka, and development assistance from the UK".

It ends: "There was agreement that the friendship between Sri Lanka and the UK should be strengthened in the new situation of peace and moves for reconciliation in the country."

There has been pressure on Dr Fox over the meeting with President Rajapakshe in light of the war crimes investigation by the UN panel. Indeed, today a source close to Foreign Secretary William Hague, commenting on the meeting, told The Times newspaper: "William might have to step in if this continues."


President Rajapakse was also due to speak at the Oxford Union, but his visit to Oxford was cancelled on Wednesday due to "security concerns".

The Union added that it maintained a "politically neutral stance" regarding speakers, stressing that "the decision was not made in relation to any aspect of Mr Rajapakse's political position, the policies of his administration or any allegations against his government."

Instead, the talk was cancelled "due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can reasonably and safely go ahead as planned."

'We hope this video is taken into account'

"I think both the videos are of real importance and deserve the kind of attention Channel 4 News has given them," Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka Director of the International Crisis Group, told Channel 4 News.

"It could also be very useful to have shared them with the UN panel and the UN Special Rapporteur, and it is encouraging that they have recognised the important of the latest version of the video. We can only hope that some of the video, along with other evidence that has been gathered, will come before a fully empowered international investigation into alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers.

"What the US said in the WikiLeaks cable was in a way, stating the obvious. If there were war crimes in Sri Lanka - what we at the International Crisis Group believe there is strong evidence of - the responsibility lies at the top level as well as at lower levels.

"This video definitely deserves more attention and is consistent with what was well known as the tradition in Sri Lanka during their war on both sides, which was to execute any soldiers from the other side. There were very few prisoners of war.

"But that doesn't make it any less shocking - or illegal."

Tim Martin, Director of Act Now, said: "The new footage of Sri Lankan army killings and sexual abuse on Channel 4 and the WikiLeaks US Embassy cable that speaks of the "responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapakse and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.

"Unlike other controversial speakers, Rajapakse is accused of war crimes that have yet to be investigated. It was an insult to humanity for that to be ignored."

Channel 4 News revealed on Wednesday that a US memo, released by WikiLeaks, accuses the Sri Lanka President of war crimes.

The US Ambassador Patricia Butenis tackles war crimes in the memo, which is headed: "Sri Lanka war crimes accountability: the Tamil perspective".

Ms Butenis writes in the communication that it is "unsurprising" that Sri Lanka's government has not investigated the issue, noting "there are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power."

The US State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the WikiLeaks cables, but told Channel 4 News: "The United States does not intend to prejudge the outcomes of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

"We believe it is important that the commission's work address the needs of the citizens of Sri Lanka who were, after all, the primary victims of this long and terrible conflict.

"The United States looks to the commission to apply international best practices, as outlined in our August 11, 2010 report to Congress.

"One important indication of its effectiveness will be whether the commission undertakes a serious and credible inquiry into allegations of war crimes and makes public recommendations based on its finding."

© Channel 4

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