by Hui Min Neo
GENEVA (AFP) – Sri Lanka came under renewed pressure this week at the UN Human Rights Council over video footages detailing violations allegedly committed by soldiers during the country’s civil war.
A UN investigator authenticated some of the footage early this week, while at the end of the week, a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 detailing the serious abuses was screened at the sidelines of the Human Rights Council.
Sri Lankan officials attending the screening angrily refuted the video, describing the disturbing footages as fake, and condemned Channel 4 for concluding that war crimes had been committed.
The documentary, which will be aired in Britain on June 14, depicts naked, blindfolded men being executed by soldiers, naked female corpses being dragged onto a trailer while lewd comments were being made by soldiers, and witness accounts of hospitals being shelled.
Some of the footage, which was filmed during the Sri Lankan army’s battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists, had earlier been provided to two UN investigators, both of whom confirmed that it was authentic.
On Monday, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, said: “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes.”
“I believe that the prima facie case of serious international crimes has been made by the video that I’ve examined,” he told the UN Human Rights Council.
In the discussion following the video screening organised by Amnesty International, Saman Zia-Zarifi, the rights group’s Asia programme director said: “It is clear that the government of Sri Lanka’s actions likely constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“There has been repeated shelling of places like hospitals, not once, not twice, but 65 times,” he noted.
But Sri Lanka’s deputy solicitor general A.M.D. Nawaz attacked the documentary, saying that “this video is not authentic.”
He stressed that Sri Lanka should be given time to carry out its own domestic process, noting that a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been set up to do just that.
After attending the screening, US ambassador Eileen Donahoe said the discussions “once again demonstrate the urgent need for a credible accounting of, and accountability for, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”
“Sri Lanka must quickly and credibly address allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict, no matter which side committed them,” she said.
“We again call on the Sri Lankan government to respond constructively to the Panel of Experts’ report and are prepared to consider appropriate next steps to achieve accountability and national reconciliation for the people of Sri Lanka,” she added.
The Panel of Experts’ report is a finding by UN experts who highlighted allegations that the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels had been involved in violations that could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Human rights activists urged the international community to monitor the Sri Lankan government’s actions, noting that the LLRC’s mandate does not cover accountability, and that Sri Lanka’s record in ensuring justice has been poor.
Amnesty International’s Peter Splinter noted that the LLRC “certainly wasn’t mandated to focus on accountability, human rights violations or war crimes.
“Our assessment is that it is not credible… whenever accountability questions are raised, it just deflects and moves away to something else,” he told AFP.
“They are talking about reconciliation. But when you talk to people who speak on behalf of people in the north, that’s not what’s happening.
“That’s why accountability is important. Because if the military which basically attacked the civilian population, continues to govern, and there is no accountability for what they did, how can people learn to trust?”
Splinter added he hoped the video would “restimulate discussion of the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
“It moves it out of the procedural discussions. It grabs people and it says ‘people were killed, people were tortured, people were executed, people were raped’. There has to be a proper response to this,” he urged.