16 June 2011/By Andrew Buncombe,
The British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said he was shocked after seeing footage of attacks on civilians shown in the Channel 4 documentary.
The British Government has renewed calls for an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes against Sri Lanka after a documentary showed civilians being shelled and troops summarily executing prisoners. Britain said it would lead international action if the Sri Lankan authorities failed to respond.
Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister, said he was shocked after watching scenes that showed screaming Tamil civilians running for cover during shelling attacks and blindfolded and bound female rebel fighters being executed with a gunshot to the back of the head. “Since the end of the conflict, the UK has called for an independent, thorough and credible investigation of the allegations that war crimes were committed during the hostilities, and the UK Government expects to see progress by the end of the year,” Mr Burt said in a statement. “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.”
Sri Lanka has faced allegations that its troops and fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelaam (LTTE), committed war crimes in the final stages of military operations that crushed the Tamil rebel fighters in the spring of 2009. A recent UN report accused the rebel fighters of using Tamil civilians as human shields and said Sri Lankan troops routinely shelled civilian areas. Makeshift clinics where injured civilians were being treated also came under fire. The report said tens of thousands of people lost their lives while the Sri Lankan authorities said they were operating a policy of “zero civilian casualties”.
Since the defeat of the LTTE forces, various footage, much of it apparently recorded on mobile phones, has emerged from the battlefields of the north and north-east of Sri Lanka, where the LTTE made a final stand. The documentary, shown this week on Channel 4, contained some of the most disturbing scenes yet. Last month, an assessment by forensic experts said the footage was genuine, while a South African law professor, Christof Heyns, who was consulted by the UN on matters of extra-judicial killings, said: “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order, definitive war crimes.”
The Sri Lankan authorities have always bristled at such allegations and said countries such as Britain and the US were in no position to make the accusations after their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a statement released this week, Sri Lanka denied allegations that civilians had been targeted and said there was no way of telling whether the footage was authentic. It has claimed previously that similar footage was faked.
The Sri Lankan government said: “The Channel 4 film has the potential to incite hatred amongst different communities in Sri Lanka, including future generations, and thereby, adversely affect the ongoing national reconciliation process.”
The three-member panel, appointed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to examine allegations of war crimes, recommended an independent international inquiry. The panel, which found “credible allegations” that war crimes were committed, said the hearings established by the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which the Colombo authorities have termed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, were inadequate.
Mr Ban has said he can set up an inquiry only with the approval of the UN’s general assembly, the security council or the human-rights council. So far, China and Russia have resisted calls for an inquiry.