Colombo, Foreign Relations, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Post-War, Vavuniya, War Crimes

A video of shame and outrage: Responses, positions and clarifications

Video of alleged executions

The video broadcast Channel 4 last week generated a number of responses from the readership of Groundviews. Much has been written about the video, including this well thought out commentary in The Lede, the New York Times news blog. Of the many comments in response to it, this one and the Lede’s response to it stand out:

Sinhala-Indian: I think this is Tiger Propaganda. American Should be worring about their own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t really care about Americans anyway. We got our true Indian friends to help us. Indians helped us to defeat the Tiger terrorist and they will help us to defeat this American inspired Tiger Propaganda.

LEDE BLOG REPLY: Can you explain how video obtained by a Sri Lankan Sinhalese journalist could possibly be “American-inspired propaganda,” against a military run by an American citizen? If reporting that a video exists and that charges have been made is propaganda, what role do you think journalists should play?

If the New York Times acknowledges that the Sri Lanka’s military is run by an American citizen, could it also mean that this citizen is open to investigations of war crimes under US law? What can and should the US Department of Justice and the State Department, for example, ask of this individual in response to this video, and other media reports alleging serious war crimes?

Views on Groundviews have been unsurprisingly divided on the veracity of the video. ‘Required’ notes on the one hand that,

The real issue here is that secretly most Sri Lankans might feel that the footage is probably genuine. The tragedy is that the majority of the country probably believe it was justified, and that the soldiers who might have carried this out deserve to be rewarded for meeting out such callous brutality. The LTTE did it right? So we can do it? Who started it anyway, I forget… everyone do it and the whole world just might go blind. It’s ok to kill them, just like the IDPs that no one in the country seems very concerned about, they are all probably terrorists right? Let the tamils of the north die and laugh while you do it. And lets all laugh about the fact that anyone would take such a matter seriously. Such is the state of this revolting country today; so deep its rot, so foul its soul.

Concurring, ‘JMN’ avers,

In today’s age of cell phone cameras, amateur videos like this surface everywhere documenting important events that are hidden to the mainstream media. It is up to the powers that be to investigate if it is legitimate and investigate it. If the SL government doesn’t have the capability to identify the perpetrators of the white van abductions and the journalist murders that happen right HERE, then why on earth would you demand that an independent source that has to fear for his/ her life in order to publish this video be held to such a high standard?

Why are you so naive to believe that this HAS to be fake? We all know the history and bloodiness of this country, and we all know much worse has happened and still happens. ‘83, the JVP uprisings, the IPKF stint here – we don’t have to go so far back. A certain ‘doctor’ openly attacks a TV station, and proudly accepts responsibility for the recent high profile murder of a newspaper editor – yet he is more powerful now than before. The entire nation knows the truth about this man, but he is yet not brought to justice. Would you agree that the evidence for these crimes do exist, but to no avail?

On the other hand, ‘Observer’ counters that,

Ahem, why should anyone protect the person who took such a video? Despite leaking it he still should be punished for being part of it. But it’s FAKE! That’s why they can’t verify it (conveniently)! If I had the will I could have easily concocted such a video as well. A good film director can do even better job than this shoddy attempt. Such evidence in a law of court is thrown out the window. And rightfully so Sri Lanka does not need to respond more than a statement highlighting the obvious inaccuracy of it. Plus even to investigate such a thing you need at least a small lead. Which the people responsible for this video does not provide. No date, time, who, where? NOTHING! What can the government do?

This position does little to convince ‘Das‘, who believes the video is authentic and goes on to note that “Many more atrocities were commited on tamils in the past,more brutal than this and are documented elsewhere. In 1971 and 1987/88 thousands of sinhala youth were killed by the police/army squads & even burned on tyres by the roadside. These are the same guys who faught the recent war and are quite used to commiting atrocities.”

There are also those such as Hari Narendran, who call for a meaningful investigation into the authenticity of the video based on Sri Lanka’s atrocious record of State terrorism. Hari notes (in response to a comment by ‘Observer‘),

Your reaction to this latest video is exactly what the sinhalese souths reaction was when allegations about the Trinco student murders, the diyawanna oya bodies, krishanthy kumaraswamy and numerous other cases of abuse by military personnel first emerged. Facts and history proved those to be accurate. It astounds me how many in the South who have seen and in many cases experienced the scorched earth/spare no innocents policy the army took in crushing the JVP insurgency or see even today how the police treat ppl in custody on mere suspicion, all in full view of the press and southern society, suddenly assume that the forces conduct themselves impeccably in the northern theatre, far away from prying eyes (deliberately kept away by gov’t policy). It is simply beyond belief. The video that emerged clearly has some disturbing footage that needs to be honestly investigated to verify its authenticity.

This echoes the position of Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions who stated yesterday that,

“If the government’s position is validated as a result of an inquiry, the international community can rest easy and the government will have been vindicated. There is no justification for not moving ahead with such an investigation in view of the government’s confidence that such atrocities were never perpetrated by its armed forces.”

Of interest here is a letter to Channel 4 sent by Justice Nihal Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in London. It notes inter alia,

… I wish to emphasis (sic) that Sri Lankan Government forces have never engage (sic) in such atrocities alleged in your news cast. It was the LTTE who in fact carried out unspeakable horrendous atrocities against innocent children, women and elderly people in Sri Lanka. It is strange that channel 4 news not only this time (sic) but never in the past ever (sic) dared to report on these heinous crimes of the LTTE.

One questions whether the political will in Sri Lanka to investigate the authenticity of this video is as weak as the High Commissioner’s grammar.