Friday, 8 January 2010

On the Sri Lankan Army's war crimes

In August last year, Channel 4 News revealed footage of "government troops summarily executing Tamils." In September, the Sri Lankan High Commission responded by saying that the video was "a fabrication designed to discredit security forces" and issuing a request "to verify the authenticity of the video footage." Now it emerges that Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has done exactly that.

According to the UN News Centre;
The Government – which earlier this year declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after years of fighting – has categorically denied the allegations raised by the video, which purportedly depicts the extrajudicial execution of two naked and helpless Tamil men by the Sri Lankan military and the presumed prior executions of others.

It had commissioned four separate investigations which concluded that the video was a fake. However, Mr. Alston had pointed out that two of the Government’s experts looking into the matter were members of the Sri Lankan Army, the body whose actions have been called into question.

Meanwhile, the reports by the three experts from the United States commissioned by Mr. Alston to examine the video “strongly suggest that the video is authentic,” according to a note prepared by the Special Rapporteur.

Peter Diaczuk, an expert in firearms evidence, concluded that the recoil, movement of the weapon and the shooter, and the gases expelled from the muzzle in both apparent shootings were consistent with firing live ammunition, and not with shooting blank cartridges.

Daniel Spitz, a prominent forensic pathologist, found that the footage appeared authentic, especially with respect to the two individuals who are shown being shot in the head at close range. He found that the body reaction, movement, and blood evidence was entirely consistent with what would be expected in such shootings.

Jeff Spivack, an expert in forensic video analysis, found no evidence of breaks in continuity in the video, no additional video layers, and no evidence of image manipulation.

“Given these conclusions, and in light of the persistent flow of other allegations of extrajudicial executions by both sides during the closing phases of the war against the LTTE, I call for the establishment of an independent inquiry to carry out an impartial investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed in Sri Lanka,” stated Mr. Alston.
At the same time, UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon "is considering the appointment of a Commission of Experts to advise him further and to assist the Government in taking measures to address possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."

We can only hope, perhaps in vain, that something substantial will come of this. Reporting on the end of the civil war in May, I reflected on the dim hopes for a lasting peace if "the precedent of history - that the war crimes of the victors go untried -" prevails. In August, confirming my fears, news emerged that "hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the recent war in North East Sri Lanka and living in camps are being denied basic human rights including freedom of movement." Although the December release of more than 12,000 of those held was a positive step, I said the fact that "the end of the civil war seem[s] like the beginning of a new repression rather than a chance to restore peace and basic rights" means "human rights issues in the country will continue to fester."

As such, especially with the UN's record in this area condemned by the precedents of Darfur and Gaza, it appears likely that little will change. However, with the possibility that renewed attention to this video will trigger fresh calls for an investigation into alleged war crimes, we cannot let this issue die. As with Trafigura's attempts to censure the BBC for reporting on its crimes, ordinary bloggers can challenge these crimes.

In order to help expose Sri Lanka's war crimes against the Tamils to the world please embed the videos (here and here) onto your blog, and tell this story to the world.