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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sri Lankan government ‘executed civilians during war with Tamil Tigers’

By Claudia Joseph
A documentary showing graphic new footage of executed civilians in Sri Lanka, including the son of the leader of the Tamil Tigers, hopes to provide conclusive evidence of war crimes by its government. A year after screening Jon Snow’s award-winning documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields about the dying days of the civil war – Channel 4 has returned to the island to uncover more evidence of alleged abuse.

The 60-minute documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, will be screened days before the England cricket team flies out to the country.

It comes in the wake of this week’s United States resolution to the UN Human Rights Council censuring Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaska, for ‘not adequately addressing serious allegations of violations of international law during the war in Sri Lanka’.

‘This forensic investigation reveals damning new evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sri Lankan government forces,’ said Mr Snow. 

‘But it also points directly to those who may bear culpability and command responsibility for this savagery – from the military leaders who led the bloody assaults that killed civilians – to the President and his brother, the Defence Secretary, who have yet to be properly investigated and held to account. 

‘It is our duty as journalists to report this evidence; it is up to the UN and the international community to initiate effective investigations and deliver justice for the thousands who lost their lives.

‘At a time when we are seeing similar carnage in Syria – this is vital work.’
Derrick Pounder points out one of the five bullet wounds in the body of 12-year-old Balakandran Prabakharan

Derrick Pounder points out one of the five bullet wounds in the body of 12-year-old Balakandran Prabakharan

Derrick Pounder points out one of the five bullet wounds in the body of 12-year-old Balakandran Prabakharan

In the documentary, Mr Snow examines four instances of alleged war crimes using contemporaneous documents, eye witness accounts, photographic stills and trophy footage to determine how events unfolded in the final days of the war and investigate who was responsible for the carnage.

According to UN estimates, up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the conflict between the Government and rebel forces.

One of the most horrific scenes shows the bullet-riddled body of 12-year-old Balachandran Prabhakaran, son of the Tiger leader Velupillai.

Professor Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathologist at Dundee University, confirmed the boy was shot five times rather than killed in combat duty.

He said: ‘There is a speckling from propellant tattooing, indicating that the distance of the muzzle of the weapon to this boy’s chest was two to three feet or less.

‘So he could have reached out with his hand and touched the gun that killed him. After receiving this wound he would have fallen backwards and it’s then that he is likely to have received these two wounds.

‘It’s likely that the shooter was standing over him while he was lying flat on the ground after the first shot. So this is a murder. There’s no doubt about it.’

The programme has also obtained unofficial footage, which suggests that his father Velupillai sustained a massive head wound – when his body was shown on television his head was covered by a rag. Separate stills see him first in uniform, then stripped naked and finally smeared in mud.
The death of Prabhakaran was confirmed after his body was shown on TV

The death of Prabhakaran was confirmed after his body was shown on TV

Again Professor Pounder believes he was executed. ‘This would be very typical of a high velocity gun shot wound to the head,’ he said.

‘A single gun shot wound to the head is a little unusual in terms of an armed conflict – it would suggest it is a targeted shot at a subject who wasn’t moving.’

According to programme makers, both scenes, which show the binding of hands, removal of clothing and shots to the back of the head, suggest a systematic policy of executing captured Tamils, which went to the highest echelons of the Government.
Amnesty International Asia Programme Director Sam Zarifi said: ‘President Rajapaksa was the highest military official in the country.

‘He was the Commander in Chief and that is how he portrayed himself. Defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa also proudly proclaimed how involved he was in the military strategy.
TV presenter and journalist Jon Snow

TV presenter and journalist Jon Snow

‘There is absolutely every reason to question those two as to specific incidents. There’s every reason to establish exactly what the chain of command was for events in the final stages – the few weeks of the war which were very bloody and predictably bloody.’

Mr Snow also uncovered a confidential internal UN report, which reveals that officials were convinced the government was deliberately shelling civilians and hospital patients in the ‘No Fire Zone.

An internal cable from the US Embassy in Colombo indicated the government had deliberately underestimated the numbers in the zone in order to starve hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians.

Satellite imagery analysed by the UN also indicates that civilians were deliberately targeted.

Last night the High Commission in Sri Lanka told Channel 4 they ‘categorically rejected the malicious allegations’ made by the programme.

It accused Channel 4 of a ‘continuing hostile and biased editorial position’ with regard to its reporting on Sri Lanka, focussing attention on ‘a number of highly spurious and uncorroborated allegations’ and seeking, ‘entirely falsely’, to implicate members of the Sri Lanka government and senior military figures.

The channel was also accused of ‘choosing to ignore the many positive post-conflict developments now taking place in the country’. The High Commission said their approach would ‘harm the ongoing and comprehensive reconciliation process’.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished is screened on Channel 4 at 10.55pm on Wednesday.
Daily Mail


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