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FeaturesNewsUN-Sri LankaSri Lanka War crimesAs individual soldiers left with trophy mobile phone videos, ‘war crimes’ was the last thing in the minds of Sri Lankan authorities

Sri Lanka War crimesAs individual soldiers left with trophy mobile phone videos, ‘war crimes’ was the last thing in the minds of Sri Lankan authorities

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Other than the film by embedded “trusted” reporters and trophy mobile phone videos by the soldiers, the Sri Lankan authorities and the Sinhalese were in too much of a victorious mood, to realise that all their actions in the battlefield were under scrutiny by satellite surveillance of several nations.


12 June 2011/by Dushy Ranetunge in London
The long awaited Channel 4 programme titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” will be screened at 11pm next Tuesday night. The late evening timing of the screening is attributed to the gruesome nature of the video, perhaps the most disturbing programme to be aired by a British TV channel.
Channel 4 was launched in 1982. One of Channel 4’s objectives is to provide an alternative to the existing channels. Its remit requires the provision of programming to minority groups. It champions minority causes.

There was considerable debate in London, if the programme should be aired, because many find its content to be unacceptable, and unsuitable to be released for British public viewing.

In Sri Lanka, Channel 4 has become a bad word, closely followed by the BBC. The UN is not far behind. Its like déjà vu, as in the 1980’s Sri Lanka had the same issues, with 83 riots leading to the military intervention by India. Indira Gandhi followed by Rajiv Gandhi was in Sri Lanka’s bad books then, and Sri Lanka’s “saviour” was the United States. Today Sri Lanka’s “saviour” is China and Russia.

In Sri Lanka, large sections of the majority Sinhalese constituency always had excuses against Indira, MGR, Rajiv, Blair, Brown, Milliband, Arbour, Pillay, Blake, Alston, Moon etc as to why they are all wrong and why the Sinhalese and their state is right.

Sri Lanka will find that from Tuesday night the list of those who speak against Sri Lanka will grow longer, and those who want to come to Sri Lanka’s aid will grow shorter.

In the 30 year Sri Lankan conflict, the LTTE was not the only perpetrator. The Sri Lankan state also played its part, from the burning down of the Jaffna library to the 83 riots, government ministers were involved. In light of this tarnished history, the Sri Lankan state and its security forces had to ensure their credibility in fighting their “war against terrorism”.

The war was conducted well for most part, but ominous signs began to emerge, first from Trincomalee, the execution of aid workers and students on a beach.

The perception created to the outside world, is that this same pattern has continued with more extra judicial executions at the end of the war.

    In Sri Lanka, large sections of the majority Sinhalese constituency always had excuses against Indira, MGR, Rajiv, Blair, Brown, Milliband, Arbour, Pillay, Blake, Alston, Moon etc as to why they are all wrong and why the Sinhalese and their state is right.

The Channel 4 video and what is happening at the UN, could have all been avoided, if Sri Lanka dealt with the issues, transparently and with credibility.

The Chemmani mass grave investigation with Amnesty International participation is a good example, in laying to rest these issues.

By denying allegations, without a proper investigation, leads to an instant loss of credibility of the Sri Lankan state.

By denying it outright and trying to cover it up, has simply resulted in the problem snowballing into something much bigger that the Sri Lankan state is finding increasingly difficult to manage. Soon it will be out of their hands.

Meanwhile, other institutions that could save Sri Lanka are being compromised. The credibility and independence of the judiciary is a must in any democracy, but even this show signs of being compromised.

All the world demands from Sri Lanka, is for it to put its house in order.

Although the Sinhalese constituency may dismiss Channel 4, “Sri Lanka’s killing fields” was screened in Geneva last week during the 17th UNHRC sessions, demonstrating the credibility of British broadcasters, who are known to subject their programmes to high legal and ethical standards in reporting.

This time around in Geneva, as Sri Lanka battled its corner, there was no victories claimed. No hero’s from Geneva, like in the last occasion, as reality slowly begins to sink in. Pakistan is quoted in Colombo as one of its saviours. The United States is far more important to Pakistan, than Sri Lanka.

Despite the reservations of Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese about Channel 4, in light of the “history” of the conflict, Sri Lanka’s record of impunity and poor standards of governance results in Channel 4 having far greater credibility than the Sri Lankan state and its officials in any international forum.

Sri Lanka chose to fight its “war against terrorism” without witnesses and banned the entry of reporters into the Vanni and in some instances into Sri Lanka. Instead it chose to embed some “trusted” reporters under the supervision of its military, who sent daily reports about the victorious army to Colombo.

As the war reached it conclusion, euphoria overtook duty, and the “trusted” reporters continued to film and later left the Vanni with some of their film, just as individual soldiers left the field with their trophy mobile phone videos. “War crimes” was the last thing in the minds of Sri Lankan authorities.

Other than the film by embedded “trusted” reporters and trophy mobile phone videos by the soldiers, the Sri Lankan authorities and the Sinhalese were in too much of a victorious mood, to realise that all their actions in the battlefield were under scrutiny by satellite surveillance of several nations.

On the day the war concluded, I sounded a warning in an article titled “Was Prabakaran and his entire family executed?” It was extremely unpopular with those who were celebrating in Colombo.

In that article, on the day the war concluded, I raised the issue of war crimes, satellite observation and that no Western head of state will want to be photographed shaking the hand of our President. The article was not published in Colombo.

If a state behaves like a terrorist organisation in its war against terrorism, it risks being treated as such among the nations of the world.

After the article was published in the Internet, some in Colombo seemed to have woken up and I received a telephone call from our High Commission in London, inquiring if I had seen any satellite material.

What the Sri Lankan authorities are faced with today is mainly material from the trophy videos from mobile phones of soldiers. The Sri Lankan state and the Sinhalese are yet to be confronted with film from “trusted” embedded reporters, some of whom I have been informed have vanished in the direction of the West, with their video. There is also the other small matter of satellite surveillance material in the possession of Western security agencies.

These might appear as evidence, once matters reach an international court.

Sri Lanka should take heed of the requests from the West, to conduct a credible internal investigation, before it all gets out of hand and out of its control.

Western states may not only be advising Sri Lanka based on “unsubstantiated” allegations based on a UN advisory report. Sri Lanka must consider the possibility that they are privy to other information and are advised by their respective security establishments.
TC

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