Channel 4 – Still Trying to Corner Sri Lanka: The Truth Has No Place in Its Strategy

Response by the Sri Lanka Mission to the United Nations

  • The documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” was screened at the UN Churches Centre today. The event was sponsored by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, who claimed that the documentary “corroborated” the findings of the discredited Darusman report.  The screening was attended by about 40, mainly interns from NGOs, and no senior diplomatic representation was visible.
  • During their initial statements, Amnesty International claimed that the documentary presented “very strong evidence of war crimes” and that there was a “consistent pattern of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan forces.” Human Rights Watch also alleged that this documentary proved that war crimes were committed and that “the Sri Lanka Government cannot be relied upon for justice”. There was a consistent suggestion that the Government forces had deliberately targeted the Tamil community.  The purpose of this screening, they asserted, was to urge the international community to conduct an independent investigation.  They expressed disappointment that this had not happened.
  • Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona and Major General Shavendra Silva challenged the assertions and suggestions in the documentary.
  • The video had spliced together disturbing footage and added Jon Snow’s heart wrenching narration to encourage a sense of outrage.  This was a deliberate ploy, including the title “Killing Fields”, plagiarized from John Pilger’s 1970 documentary on the Khemer Rouge. The emotional impact of this title was clear.
  • The narration is clearly designed to create an impression of the Government of Sri Lanka deliberately targeting the Tamil population.  This was a blatant lie.
  • Although the suggestion is made that thousands, possibly 40,000 Tamil civilians, had been killed, it takes a vivid imagination to jump to that conclusion even though the images shown are disturbing.  The footage of the dead, in the absence of the narration does not lead to the conclusion that thousand had died.
  • Had the Government deliberately intended to attack the Tamil population, it would suggest that the Government had learned nothing from the experiences of other military forces fighting terrorists in distant lands. (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya)  The deliberate targeting of civilians only creates more martyrs and volunteers for the rebels.  The Government’s objective was to win over the Tamil civilian population and not to create more volunteers for the LTTE.
  • On the other hand, The LTTE used hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields, having forcibly herded them together as it retreated, and then it had located its fighting units and heavy guns in the midst of the civilians, as was evident even from some of the footage itself.  International law and practice permits retaliatory strikes when fired upon subject to the principle of proportionality and reasonableness, which is also acknowledged in the video.  At no stage could it be said that government fire breached this rule.
  • Wars are ugly things and civilians do get hurt.  This war was brought upon Sri Lanka by the LTTE.  The LTTE controlled territory, had an air capability and a naval force.  They recruited over 5,700 child combatants according to the UNICEF, invented the suicide vest and deployed it more than 236 times successfully, bombed UNESCO protected places of religious worship, massacred civilians endlessly, including in temples and mosques and ethnically cleansed the Northern Province of all non Tamils.   The government was forced to use force only after a series of efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict was rebuffed by the LTTE. The government acted responsibly.
  • A democratically elected Government had the responsibility to take appropriate action to counter a menace of this nature.
  • The scene where Tamil civilians were filmed pleading with the UN not to leave; suggested at the time that this was a staged demonstration by the LTTE. At the time the UN had said that the demonstration was not genuine.  In any event while the expatriate staff that are in jeans and 4WDs of the UN left, thousands or even hundreds of locally recruited staff remained on the ground.  They were also UN staff. It was mischievous to suggest that the UN was forced to leave to hide the evil plan of the government.
  • It is malicious to suggest that the media was excluded.  There were journalists who were in the front, including Al Jazeera.  The BBC operated out of Colombo.  Perhaps it was because Channel 4 was kicked out that it has decided to seek vengeance from Sri Lanka.  In fact, the scene where thousands of civilians are filmed crossing the lagoon, escaping from the LTTE, was filmed by Al Jazeera.  Many NGOs stayed within the conflict zone and the ICRC was present till the very end.  When it became impossible to transport food and medicine by land to the civilians held hostage by the LTTE, the ICRC began transporting these items by sea with the assistance of the Government.
  • The ICRC continued to transport the sick and the wounded, out of the LTTE area, including pregnant mothers, until the very end, by sea.  It transported approximately 7000 sick and wounded and over 8,000 friends, relatives and carers.  It is highly unlikely that a responsible organization like the ICRC would have transported 8,000 people who were not sick or wounded, if there had been sick and injured awaiting transportation.
  • It was the responsibility of the sovereign state to deal with any infractions of international standards on its own.  This is the law.  Sri Lanka has established the LLRC for this purpose and the Attorney-General’s Department has created a special unit to deal with the relevant recommendations of the LLRC.  In addition the military has also said that it would investigate specific instances where soldiers may have broken the law.
  • Dr. Kohona concluded by saying that it is one thing to present facts to be judged by viewers but it was something else for the malicious misrepresentation of facts to create an unreal and exaggerated picture with an ulterior motive.

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