Sri Lanka’s atrocities: lest we forget

From April 2009 until recently, about 300,000 people were held in internment camps in Sri Lanka, behind barbed wires. Their only crime was to be Tamil. Their detention was not judicially reviewed, the international media and Red Cross could not see them. Those who detained them got away scot free. And some Malaysians are getting rich from all this.

Sri Lankan soldiers killing unarmed, blindfolded naked victims

Jonathan Miller, writing in the Channel 4 blog (Channel 4 is a terrestrial television station in England), has a cogent article authenticating video footage showing Sri Lankan soldiers murdering unarmed, blindfolded, naked victims:

Last night I watched another video in our newsroom, this time from Sri Lanka.

It was sent to us by a group of exiled journalists. It was chillingly reminiscent of the Bosnia video.

The casual banter and laughter of the uniformed killers was what I immediately found so callous and shocking, as they kicked in the head and then shot – point-blank – their bound, blindfolded, naked victims.

The raw footage – one continuous shot lasting one minute and eight seconds – is sickening.

The group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka – comprised of Tamils and Sinhalese – claim the footage they’d obtained was filmed in January this year and depicts the extra-judicial execution of Tamils by Sri Lankan government soldiers.

This video contains images that some may find distressing.

After informing us that the Sri Lankan Government categorically denied the footage, and instead claimed that it was the Tamil Tiger rebels posing as soldiers, Miller points out:

Personally, I think Steven Spielberg would have had a hard job staging this grim scene.

We were unable to verify the authenticity of the footage, but we did our level best to do so and we would not have broadcast our report had we not been confident with the expert analysis we received.

Before we went to air, I watched the video with a leading Sri Lankan human rights investigator – a Sinhalese himself – who provided forensic insights into its authenticity.

This investigator has many years of experience looking into abuses and impunity in his homeland, but he’d never seen anything like this.

Many detractors have made their points of view clear in emails to Channel 4 News or on the websites of newspapers like Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror.

While it’s true that Tamil Tiger insurgents were known to masquerade in government uniforms, what makes the video credible is that telltale casual dialogue between the killers as they dispatch their helpless captives.

In rough provincial Sinhala accents, they jokingly argue over who gets to shoot whom.

They take turns, mockingly play-acting the popular folk game “kurupiti gahanawa wage” – “Your Turn, My Turn.”

Recently, the Times newspaper has confirmed that the video was authentic:

An analysis for The Times by Grant Fredericks, an independent forensic video specialist who is also an instructor at the FBI National Academy, suggests otherwise. He found no evidence of digital manipulation, editing or any other special effects. However, subtle details consistent with a real shooting, such as a discharge of gas from the barrel of the weapon used, were visible.

This lends credence to calls for an international investigation into the civil war in Sri Lanka, one the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council rejected. In fact, a resolution was passed, drafted by the Sri Lankan government, commending the government for its resolution of the civil war. This was despite eye witness reports that cluster bombs, phosporous bombs, 360 degree rotating guns, mines thrown into civilian areas and aerial shootings killed several thousand civilians who walked from one place to another between July 2006 and May 2009. The deaths of more than 20,000 Tamil civilians, huddled in the government declared no fire zone, during those dying days of the war have been ignored. Why did the Government of Sri Lanka resist calls for an independent investigation if it had nothing to hide?

Concentration camps

For all this while, around 300,000 Tamils were detained in internment camps (propaganda calls it welfare or Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps) behind barbed wires. The Times reported that approximately a thousand people a week were dying in one of those camps. The Sri Lankan government claims to be holding the Tamils in those camps for their own protection since there are land mines surrounding their homes. Strangely, no explanation is given as to how the Tamils avoided the land mines when fleeing the war.

Most recently, a British biomedical graduate who was stuck in one such camp for more than 3 months has come out to confirm what many suspected – that these were concentration camps where torture, rape and abuse were widespread. The Guardian reports:

Tamil women interned after escaping the horrors of the civil war in Sri Lanka were sexually abused by their guards who traded sex for food, a British medic has revealed.

Vany Kumar, who was locked up behind barbed wire in the Menik Farm refugee camp for four months, also claims prisoners were punished by being made to kneel for hours in the hot sun, and those suspected of links to the defeated Tamil Tigers were taken away and not seen again by their families.

Kumar, 25, from Essex, was released from internment in September, but has waited until now to reveal the full scale of her ordeal in the hope of avoiding reprisals against friends and family held with her. They have now been released after the Sri Lankan government bowed to international pressure this month and opened the camps.

Tamil asylum seekers in the West, who had no “evidence” of the atrocities committed against them, were also being deported back to Sri Lanka. This was despite concerns for their welfare if returned to Sri Lanka in breach of prevailing United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines. The BBC, when reporting this, quotes the UNHCR guidelines as follows:-

In a statement issued in July, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on all governments not to return Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers from the north, as normalcy is yet to return despite the end of the war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government.

“Notwithstanding the end of the hostilities, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains of concern to UNHCR,” the July 2009 guideline said.

The UNHCR says the plight of nearly 300,000 internally displaced Tamils in camps near Vavuniya in the north-west in particular, “remains extremely challenging”.

….

The UNHCR guidelines said: “Tamils in the north are still heavily targeted in the security and anti-terrorism measures… Widescale detentions and confinement of Tamils from the north remains a serious concern.”

Apparently, about half of those 300,000 people have now been allowed to return home, with more being released slowly due to international pressure. The Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre reports:

In November, large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) were released from closed camps in the North of Sri Lanka, after months with little release activity marked by very difficult conditions in the camps and mounting international pressure. On 20 November 2009, the Government of Sri Lanka announced that more than half of the IDPs had been released, and that there would be total freedom of movement for all remaining IDPs by 1 December 2009. Government officials also reportedly confirmed that all the camps would be emptied by the end of January, while the government announced that from 15 December, each family to be resettled will receive 50,000 rupees ($440) to restart their lives, instead of the 25,000 rupees per family up until then.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, on a visit to Sri Lanka from 17 to 19 November, called on the government to consult extensively with IDPs on resettlement, particularly concerning their livelihoods in return areas. According to NGOs, basic infrastructure is still lacking in many resettlement areas. NGOs have also raised concerns about what freedom of movement means in practice, saying that the pass system to be set up for IDPs still in camps will continue to significantly limit their freedom of movement.

All about the money?

But before this happened, for more than 6 months, all those Tamils were being detained behind barbed wires by a government consisting mainly of a different ethnic group who form the majority of the community. Those Tamils who were being detained were slowly dying away like flies. The Sri Lankan Government told the Red Cross they were no longer needed. When overseas Tamils tried to send food and medicine, this was turned away. Credible evidence has been given time and time again as to how the Government of Sri Lanka committed heinous crimes against its civilian population during the war. It is no coincidence that these detainees are also witnesses to what occurred during the war. They were not being released, and the international media were for so long denied free access to them.

A Gulf Times report says that the Leader of Sri Lanka’s Opposition (also a member of the Sinhala ethnic majority) had called for their resettlement and the UN Secretary General had also expressed grave concern at the humanitarian situation in the camps.

Most tellingly, Malaysia is assisting the Sri Lankan government in giving jobs to former child soldiers on construction sites. Malaysia seems to be the largest single foreign investor in Sri Lanka. Our High Commissioner to Sri Lanka is reported by the Sri Lankan Sunday Times as wanting to increase trade links even further!

This gives us a little hint as to why the Malaysian government is such great pals with the Sri Lankan government (Malaysia voted in favour of Sri Lanka’s self serving resolutions at the United Nations) and why Yang Berkhidmat Charles Santiago’s plea on behalf of the Tamils of Sri Lanka was firmly rebuffed by UMNO politicians.

So, before booking your holiday to Sri Lanka, before buying that Sri Lankan product, before believing candy eyed tales of all being well in those camps, remember that video, remember the credible news reports above and remember that war crimes are still war crimes, even when they were committed by the victors.

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Posts by Shanmuga K

Shanmuga K sometimes sees a purple banana emerging in his sub-conscious. An article seems to then be magically written. He is @shanmuga_k on Twitter. He is currently in New York, pursuing an LLM at Columbia University.

Posted on 29 December 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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11 Responses to Sri Lanka’s atrocities: lest we forget

  1. Ranjit

    Having kept an open mind I now find it difficult to accept your version of purported events as truthful. If it is an unbiased report that has been substantiated one could continue to be horrified by what humans are capable of doing. However it appears that Channel4 is completely hoodwinked by the LTTE propaganda machine. You could salvage some pride and integrity by now airing the same programme with much more hindsight and proper research. I like you abhor any form of cruelty. However, when the rest of the righteous world (including you) ignored the daily killings, torture, fear, and terrorism that we had to live with for the past thirty years how can you be so critical of the manner terrorism is brought to an end?
    I often wonder if the rest of the world is aware of what Britain did to us during the colonial years. Guilt-ridden as you may be you should not try to project your past follies on the only nation to conquer terrorism single-handedly just so that the peoples of that island nation could once again live without fear or your tainted help. As Mark Antony stated “I have come to bury Ceaser not to praise him”!

  2. Ranjit

    I am a Sinhalese married to a Tamil as is my brother. I saw the flawed but illuminating Channel4 programme and was shocked until I saw these two videos found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btN5VisbhqA&fe…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHSr8wnlLbk&fe…

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  5. Ranjit

    How else could one conquer terrorism? The western way of protecting these criminals by housing them in prisons and giving them five star treatment does not work. Terrorist do not care about humanity. They do not discriminate. If they cannot live in peace and harmony they should leave their host country. After all “When in Rome one should do as the Romans do”.
    All these other major western countries that continuously interfere in Sri Lanka should first look at their chequered history. The root of all the troubles and ills that befall most countries were first instigated by Britain, Portugal, France, Spain, Holland, Germany and lately the “war-mongers” USA.
    If they are unable to supress terrorism at their doorstep at least be honest enough to admit failure and stop displaying the “sour grapes” attitude and mind their own business. They only have to look at the legacy of the LTTE to understand…. eg type in Anuradhapura massacre on google!!!

  6. martin

    its a revenge by the italian whore whose mum in law was killed by the sikhs she made one of em the pm now carries on genocide against the south indians.soon this corrupt indians who build 1 billion home while their fellow indians wallow in shit.if it was chinese this billon would be used to help his own people before he builds his home.perhaps if the chinese were to donate their urine and faeces to the rich indians and their politicans in india after eating their minds could change for the better.

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  8. Rajen

    Thats a reminder for so many of us living here and still ungrateful behaving like gangster and LTTE since couple of years ago…live peace here and be grateful

  9. Dr Vijay

    Your side of story will surely look bad on Sri Lankan government. Need to hear the other side also. LTTE struggle is a war without reason. To have a Tamil state and promote Tamil language. Breaking a country for language.

    LTTE heads deserve to die this way. It's time for Sri Lanka to build a nation with the people to be known as single nation of Ceylonese people.

    It's better we Malaysians don't get involved in their internal affairs. Ours already a failed nation, 52yrs after Merdeka still calling our selves Indians and Chinese and proud of it some more. Lets not spoil the nation building of Ceylon which has just begun.

  10. vetri

    Well said truindian. Lets think of the future in positive notes.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR

  11. true indian

    there have old saying man who don,t have shoes will more happy than man who don,t have leg.Like that in Malaysia indians can life,enjoy build temple 1km 3 or 4 but still protest.Hindus after died to burn their bodies,but big isuue hindu graveyard move,please what happening in Sri Lanka is a lesson who come to protect tamilnadu goverment?india goverment?UN?USA? so give important to education,alcohol abuse and gangsterism need to reduce don,t put blame here and there