On Tuesday evening, just after 11pm British Time, the UK’s Channel 4 showed some of the most horrific footage it has ever broadcast. The footage is part of an hour-long documentary, ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ which looks at some of the horrific war crimes that were committed on both sides in the last few weeks of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009. The programme is available for the next 5 days via 4OD to viewers anywhere in the world.
This is a difficult program to watch, featuring graphic scenes of violence and suffering. But the Sri Lanka Campaign thanks Channel 4 for its tireless work seeking out the video footage of this ‘war without witness.’ The director of the film describes one scene where, despite heavy shelling, an unknown Tamil civilian cameraman keeps on filming. A terrified woman screams at him to shelter in a bunker, asking ‘ What are you going to do with that video? They are killing us.’ But without this civilian footage, and other footage taken as sick war trophies by government troops, Sri Lanka’s horrors may well have gone unchallenged.
This film reveals the full scale of Sri Lanka’s hell on earth. The unending trauma of the makeshift hospital shelled and uprooted several times until finally the staff have to give up and abandon their patients. Government soldiers who veer between throwing female bodies around like meat to ogling bodies they have just mutilated. The surrendering combatant whose last human contact is a kick in the head. The screaming children watching as their mother bleeds to death as they stay rooted in a bunker, during shelling of the ludicrously named ‘no fire zone’.
There has been a huge response to the film, with over 800,000 viewers tuning in on Tuesday evening and questions asked during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. So the film is keeping the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka on the global agenda. But despite this footage and the recent UN Panel of Experts report showing that there are credible allegations that both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE committed serious war crimes, there has been no serious attempt to bring the criminals on either side to justice – or even to fully investigate what happened. In place of any tribunal, Channel 4 have been the ones collecting, investigating and processing the evidence of war crimes.
This process is doubly important as some of the perpetrators are still in positions of authority, and some of the crimes are still taking place – nearly 4,000 people are being held in camps to which the international community has no access.
The Government of Sri Lanka insists that the footage is fake. But in fact it is genuine, in all its horror: 5 forensic experts commissioned by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights have testified that they believe the footage to be authentic.
Now it is the responsibility of the international community to harness the power and horror of this film, to act and demand a war crimes investigation from the UN. For there are global repercussions from the way Sri Lanka’s government is held accountable for its actions. As the film’s director states ‘if the UN fails yet again, the message to every tyrant and repressive government will be clear: if you want to kill your own people with impunity, you will probably get away with it.’