06/16/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Horrifying new images of the atrocities committed by the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa during the final phase of the war against Tamil separatists


"Sri Lanka's Killing Fields," Channel 4's new 50-minute documentary two years in the making, includes video footage, photographs, and unedited testimony of Tamil fighters and civilians who were systematically executed by Senagalese soldiers with a single shot to the head. Many of them had been tortured and, in the case of women, raped.

The gruesome images show dead bodies strewn about or lined up on the ground, naked and abused. The young soldiers-transformed into animals-then sneer and make sexual jokes as they toss the bodies in a pile on the back of army trucks.

These are horrifying and inhuman images whose authenticity-as in the past-has been denied by the Sri Lankan Defense Minister, but confirmed by experts on the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

After seeing the video, Christof Heyns,UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, declared that it contains "definitive war crimes" committed by the government of Mahinda Rakapaksa.

"I was shocked by the horrific scenes," said British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who added that the footage "constitutes convincing evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The whole of the international community will expect the Sri Lankans to give a serious and full response to this evidence."

In addition to images of summary executions (which start 33 minutes into the film), the documentary replays the dramatic final weeks of the war (January-May 1009), during which at least 40 thousand Tamil civilians were killed by Senagalese forces lead by Mahinda Rakapaksa and his brother Gotabhaya, who served as head of Defense.

Gordon Weiss and Benjamin Dix, spokesmen for the UN mission in Sri Lanka, explain for Channel 4 cameras their frustration and rage at being forced by the government in Colombo to leave the conflict zone on the eve of the final offensive. Weiss and Dix tell how the local people begged them not to leave and abandon them to certain death.

Video images and unedited eyewitness accounts tell of systematic bombings by the army over the "No Fire Zone," where the government had trapped hundreds of thousands Tamil civilians trying to escape: they bombed tent cities, hospitals crowded with women, the elderly, and wounded children. They bombed columns of refugees trying to escape and humanitarian supply lines.

What is more, the slaughter on display here is no mere military error; it is the result of deliberate planning and criminal intent. Witnesses tell how coordinates of temporary hospitals given by the International Red Cross to Senegalese generals to keep them from getting bombed by mistake were used instead to target them. They were bombed 65 times in the course of a few weeks and almost always just a few minutes apart so that rescuers would be killed.

"Sri Lanka's Killing Fields" includes crimes by Tamil guerillas accused of using civilian refugees as human shields and shooting at those who tried to escape. The documentary also shows the Tamil civilians who survived and are now interned in military camps without food and medical care, subject to torture and rape. We also see the northern areas of the country still under military occupation and subject to abuses and injustices of every sort.

The documentary concludes by recalling that two years ago Tamil civilians implored the international community not to abandon them and they were betrayed. Today survivors are asking the international community for justice. "Will they be abandoned?," the video asks.

The answer seems to come from Steve Crawshaw, a Director of Amnesty International who is interviewed in the documentary. Crawshaw notes that the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to try the Libyan government before the International Court of Justice in the Hague, and he contrasts this with the total silence and inaction at the plight of tens of thousands who have died in Sri Lanka. He calls it horrifying, unexplainable, and morally indefensible.

Enrico Piovesana

Translated by Gary Cestaro