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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

‘Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ at the UNHRC in Geneva

Remarks after the screening of the Channel 4 documentary were – one human rights worker said ‘How did we let this happen to these people’….’Is that man still in power’ said a junior diplomat…..’In my country we would have hanged him a long time ago’ said another.

The C4 documentary was very powerful. As the US UNHRC Ambassador said after the viewing, it is not going to serve any purposes if Sri Lanka just keeps rejecting these allegations without investigating them properly
Amnesty International (AI) had their event first and started a couple of minutes late and had some technical glitches too. The freelance documentary producer Callum Macrae explained what and where and how this documentary was put together and said he has done his part in bringing as much evidence as possible into the documentary. He didn’t want to be the person who should decide what’s next and he pointed at the audience – many country reps, NGOs, human rights organisation members and media personnel and said its your job to decide what’s next.

The film itself was for running time of nearly an hour. There were video footage of just about to summarise how the war was fought without any witnesses and footage to show how the UN had to evacuate from the Vanni due to threats from the government as much as the government couldn’t assure their safety. Video footage to showed how on the day that they left with people pleading with them not to leave. Very emotional interviews from two former UN staff and shots of grieving and pleading young old and all kinds at the gates of the UN compound.

Footage to show targeting of civilians and hospitals apparently 65 times targeting hospitals on record. Sometime straight after the GPS location of a makeshift hospital being given to the ICRC.

How people were herded into one place to the other and then targeted by shelling. Eye witness accounts one after the other. How a milk queue for children was targeted etc.

The possible proof of premeditated killing of civilians as much as govt estimates being so unbelievable lower than what turned out be into hundreds of thousands.

The estimates obviously drove much lower quantities of medicine and food supplies sent to the war zone. That in itself being crime against humanity.

Enough video footage and eye witness accounts to make the point that how cruel and terrible life was in the ever shrinking no fire zone. Satellite images to prove the targeting of the no fire zone.

John Snow kept making the point that LTTE were no angles.

At the end of the war summary execution of young men and women with hands tied behind their back and blind folded.

Apart from the previously aired footage the documentary also had a never seen clip of 3 or 4 young people at least one young woman/girl being shot at close range. The commanding officer clearly giving instructions – these xxxxers were carrying guns to kill us and now look how scared they look and shoot the Bxxxxds on their head etc.

– A young man being tied to a coconut tree and being tortured. Blood all over and then his dumped dead body covered in blood.

– Abused half dead naked women being kicked and thrown in to a truck. Sexual innuendo from military personnel.

– Trophy filming of dead bodies and expert comments explaining why he thought in his professional opinion that these were bodies of people being shot when they were stationery and at close range.

The film also reflects on how the command structure went right up to the President and his brother.

What happened prior to alleged white flag incident as to who knew what? How the UN had admitted that they were given assurances by the President himself that if Mr. Nadesan and Mr. Pullidevan were to surrender how they will be protected. And then the dead bodies of both of them on film and photos.

Footage of Colonel Ramesh being interrogated by the military and then his dead body being found.

After the war ended witness accounts of how young women and girls were abused, raped and sometimes in groups and other times mothers and daughters. One such mother was on camera.

– How these girls go missing at nights never to be seen after.

– How poorly the camps other than the camp where ban visited were maintained. Footages of the same.

– How militarised the north is even today and how displaced people are still living in tents and huts.

All in all a great piece of archives of video, photo and eye witness accounts. It will be impossible to argue against this said a media reporter.

After the screening AI and the film producer made short remarks and then Sri Lankan delegation lead by Mr. Navaz was given 10 minutes to make a statement.

He was blabbering. Then at the end if his 10 minutes he tried to get 2 of his colleagues to make further statements but only one was given 2 to 3 minutes for him to share his technical analysis of the video.

His argument was that as claimed this couldn’t be a Phillips mobile phone as claimed by some expert and therefore it cannot be authentic. The channel 4 guy very harshly said “I am sorry whether it is Phillips or whatever the content is what we are seeking investigation on”.

Then the audience were given a chance to share their thoughts and/or ask questions. Lots of them did. A very few planted type ones said things in favour of Sri Lanka. One was a female colleague/friend of KT Rajasingam. Suren Surendiran of Global Tamil Forum challenged the supposed witness protection that exists for the LLRC to be a safe place for everyone to place their evidence at and the fact that how intolerant the present government is when it comes to decent and gave the examples of Lasantha Wckramatunge and other journalists who have disappeared. Mr. Navaz was just rejectful.

Suren also said that the Tamils are seeking for both sides to be investigated independently and to the international standards.

Many others commented that how previous presidential commissions have performed and that some of the LLRC members including the chair, the former AG had been at the same room (XXII) trying to defend govt action or the lack of it during and after the IIGEP fiasco. The point was that the LLRC is full of government sympathisers and not an independent panel.

The Channel 4 documentary fundamentally blames the UN for its lack of action on the panel’s report.

Following the Amnesty event from 11 to 1pm, Sri Lankan government event took place in the same room. Many country representatives turned up for this too. Mahinda gave the opening speech explaining how Sri Lanka recognises that in his words, post conflict era being more challenging than the conflict period, at times. How Sri Lanka recognises that there are human rights and other issues and that Sri Lanka seeks help and not hindrance to get over and become a fully fledged democracy. He blamed everybody else other than the government for their mishaps. Channel 4, the special Rapporteur, some section of the international community, some NGOs and iNGOs. They were all targeted. He however acknowledged some NGOs, iNGOs and greater part of the international community he said has been very generous and helpful at the time of need for Sri Lanka. He said the LLRC should be given all the help and support it can get and all evidence should be placed in front of it. He said that the LLRC should be given the space and time for it to conclude. He then introduced the rest of his colleagues at the head table and said how he thought the rest of the two hours could pan out.

One after the other two separate power point presentations – very lengthy and boring to be frank were done. One by a young lady called Niromi Fernando, who did a decent job with a very long and too detailed presentation on ‘National Action Plan’ and the second on Rehabilitation & Reconstruction.

A good 45 minutes of presentations later and on top of the may be 20 minutes opening speech by Mahinda the floor was opened for comments and questions. Mahinda as chairman listed who and in which order to ask or speak. He first gave the floor to the US Ambassador. She started with praise for the government’s genuine efforts with regards to reconciliation but quickly changed the tone to say that Sri Lanka is taking a path that is widening the gap between what the international community is seeking and what Sri Lanka is doing. That is not good for anyone’s best interest. She said that just by point blank rejecting allegations and by not addressing the accountability issue properly Sri Lanka’s best endeavours to peace and reconciliation will not be achieved in her opinion.

For everyone’s surprise both Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Attorney General seemed in agreement with the assessment of the US Ambassador. One could notice the surprised face in the rest of the Lankan delegates.

US is taking a very tough public position, whilst the Brits were keeping numb said a delegate informally.

The Chinese, Russian, Pakistani and Maldives delegation spoke in favour of govt of Sri Lanka and kind of suggested that Sri Lanka should be given all the help and assistance to deal with its internal problems. Costa Rica, Switzerland and the EU delegates posed questions to kind of articulate the weaknesses in the current approach by Sri Lanka in the accountability process.

Many others including human rights activists Gary Anandasangaree of Canada, Kirubaharan of France and Suren Surendiran of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) were allowed to pose a question or two each. For most of the technical legal based questions Attorney General Mohan Pieris answered. He spoke well and articulated the government point of view very well.

Gary Anandasangaree, being an Attorney himself challenged Mohan Pieris for too simplifying the weaknesses identified in the current LLRC process and condemned the aggressive language used by the Lankan representatives generally.

Kirubaharan, highlighted the ineffectiveness of previous commissions appointed by this President and the lack of independence in the LLRC process.

K.T. Rajasingham just made a lengthy statement in praise of president Rajapakshe. However wanted to hide himself from cameras just like how a typical coward will behave. He clearly knows that he has no space in the Tamil community as they regard him as a traitor. He also knows that he has no space in the Sinhala community as they think he’s a ‘boot licker’

Suren Surendiran of GTF Mahinda Samarasinghe whether he would recommend Colonel Gaddafi to investigate any alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya, if he survived? There was a reasonably loud chuckle from the audience including the US Ambassador and Mahinda himself kind of smiled. Sure Surendiran also asked the Attorney General how he reconciled the National Action Plan and the 18th amendment to the Sri Lanka’s constitution, especially when all the independent bodies that existed like the Human Rights Council, appointment of Chief of Police, Election Commissioner, Election Commission and the Judiciary itself is now politicised and vested in the President?

Mahinda went first, and said that he wasn’t here to defend Gaddafi. However he said he can tell the audience that his Excellency Mahinda Rajapakshe is genuinely serious about reconciliation. I didn’t ask that, said Suren. Then the AG said you know Suren even in America the judges are appointed by the president. For which Suren said who said America is the best example? This again brought a chuckle from the US delegates and others.

With that Mahinda abruptly closed the session saying that they have already over-run their allocated time in the room.

The meeting was concluded 15 minutes later at 3.15. All were served with finger buffet afterwards.


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