Groundviews

Is the war crimes video confirmed by UN as authentic “unrepresentative and irrelevant”?

The Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, presented at the 17th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva today found, after digital forensic investigations, new footage from the final days of Sri Lanka’s civil war as authentic and proving that war crimes took place there. As noted in this AFP report,

“What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes,” the U.N. investigator, South African law professor Christof Heyns, said in a report released Monday to the global body’s Human Rights Council.

Heyns said he reviewed the footage showing the apparent execution of unarmed men and women with technical and forensic experts. “The overall conclusion reached by the experts is that the video is authentic and the events reflected in the video footage occurred as depicted,” he told the council.

Sri Lanka’s government has maintained that the video is not real.”

The report of Heyns is available in full here. Pages 430 to 482 of the report, dealing with the video, are reproduced below. Please note there are graphic images in the PDF. Click here to read the document full-screen.

We passed this document around today and among the responses we got, one particularly interesting one, referring to the video, noted that,

“Possibly even probably true, but… unrepresentative and irrelevant.

Emphasis ours. We are opening this out for the readership to debate.

Recall that this latest report reaffirms the findings of the Technical Note prepared by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, in relation to the authenticity of the “Channel 4 videotape” in 2010, which also found the (shorter) version of the video to be authentic.

Back in August 2009, Groundviews featured some compelling debate over the authenticity of this video and how it would play out in post-war Sri Lanka. A video of shame and outrage: Responses, positions and clarifications, read over 20,000 times to date with over 100 comments, provides a useful backdrop for what we hope will be an equally robust discussion over this latest confirmation by the UN of an instance where war crimes were committed by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

This latest disturbing report by the UN also feeds into an on-going, vigorous debate on Groundviews on war crimes arising out of the alleged targeting of civilians in the so-called No Fire Zones (NFZs) established by the government during the final weeks and days of the war. A robust debate on No Fire Zones (NFZs) and International Humanitarian Law: Artful dodging of war crimes in Sri Lanka? has been read over 2,000 times in less than a week and generated well over 50 comments.