Could this film change the world?

Caution: this article contains some graphic descriptions that some will find distressing.

Today at work I saw an excerpt from Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, a film that has been made over a period of two years by Channel 4 News.

The broadcaster invited its staff to attend a screening of some of the devastating footage present in tomorrow’s hour-long documentary, and to ask questions to Channel 4’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Dorothy Byrne, director Callum Macrae and Channel 4 news journalist Jon Snow (who narrates the film).

We were given warnings prior to viewing the footage, and were told that we were welcome to leave if necessary. Although I knew that staying would be incredibly difficult – both in the moment and in the aftermath – something kept me rooted to the small rostrum I had used as a seat (the cinema was packed).

And so it began. The 13 final, chilling minutes of the documentary that Channel 4 will be screening from 11.05pm on Tuesday 14th June and releasing online to the world (geo-unblocked) shortly afterwards. The brutal footage provides uncompromising evidence as to the atrocities committed after the 25-year Sri Lankan civil war had ended in 2009. It is widely acknowledged that war crimes were committed by both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government during the war. The first part of the film documents this – and Channel 4 news have always presented this as such.

The end of the film shows what happened to those who freely surrendered, and those who, blindfolded and bound, knelt silently had had their deaths captured on videophones as a prized ‘trophy’ by their executors. Still photographs are also present. Naked bodies – many of raped and murdered women – are filmed by government forces who laugh, gurn for the camera and discuss their victims. One soldier is heard to comment on a corpse; “This one had the best figure”, whilst in a separate film, a militant professes a desire to mutilate the breasts of the body of the woman he observes through his camera lens. During a time of surrender, these are no longer purely war crimes – these are crimes against humanity.

In an article written for the Guardian, director Callum Macrae writes about the necessity of making these images available to the world and what must be done with the footage captured:

These pictures push to the limit every normal rule of what is acceptable on television. You will see prisoners, bound and gagged, being executed in cold blood. You will see innocent civilians dying in agony on the ground in makeshift hospitals, which have been denied medicines and supplies by the Sri Lankan government. But if this is the only way to make people take this seriously, we believe it is the right thing to show these images.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has been questioned about his resistance to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to account, claiming that he does not have the authority to put mechanisms into place to investigate them. With his intentions to rerun for his title clear, could it be that Ban Ki Moon is eager not to displace the support of Russia and China? This article seems to think so.

For Macrae, who has shown the film to the UN and will see his film screened around the world and at the Houses of Parliament on the 22nd June, the ball is firmly in the UN’s court – and they need to take action swiftly.

If the UN fails yet again, the message to every tyrant and repressive government will be clear: if you want to kill your own people with impunity, you will probably get away with it.

Around the world, civilians are uprising. But what happens when the dust settles? What happens when more of our troops return to the safety of home? What happens if we do not hold this government accountable, and others around the world feel safe in their own reprehensible actions?

When we left Sri Lanka in 2009, we left the people to die. And if we leave them without justice then we deserve to be left with them in our minds, and their final moments, captured on shaking videophones, at the forefront of our consciousnesses.

One resounding question rang out through the cinema after the screening; what can we do?

This list is by no means exhaustive but you could:

  • Tweet your local MP and tell him to attend the screening on the 22nd June at the Houses of Parliament
  • Write on your own blogs about the atrocities and share
  • Share the link to the film on Channel4.com via blogs, Twitter and Facebook
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6 comments

  1. Mango · June 14, 2011

    Oh dear… I suppose working at Channel 4 must lead to a loss of your critical faculties, no?
    The “Sinhalese” government? That’s true as long as you always say the “White British Government”, when talking about the UK. When you visit the British MPs, do please ask them how many of them were complicit in allowing the UK-based pro-LTTE diaspora to organise and fundraise with impunity, thus enabling the LTTE to continue its war. I’ve taken apart most of McCray’s half-baked nonsense here: http://wp.me/pVJuU-aG

    SL’s war and atrocities will be dealt with in Sri Lanka and not by tainted ex-colonial overseers intent on buffing up their moral stature. Our war is finished. Yours’ however look set to continue into the foreseeable future. Good luck with that.

  2. Frankie Ward · June 14, 2011

    Hi,

    I get your point about my calling the Sri Lankan government Sinhalese and take that on board. My point is that the UN need to do something and take a stand as an example to all other nations – otherwise what is the UN for?

    If the government in Sri Lanka is dealing with the atrocities, why is there no result thus far? Its been two years…

    The world needs to change – by standing up, taking note of our past mistakes and seeking to rectify them we can make a difference in time for the future.

  3. Mango · June 14, 2011

    Hi Frankie,
    OK, so let the UN start with the biggest enablers of civilian deaths in the last two decades, the UK & US (remember Iraq sanctions and then Iraq 2? and currently AfPak quagmire), then on to Russia (Chechnya) and then perhaps India (too many insurgencies to count) oh.. and Israel of course and then by all means prosecute Sri Lanka. I’m more likely

    I’ve done a quick ‘n dirty compare and contrast to help bleeding hearted humanitarians everywhere:
    http://thecarthaginiansolution.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/sri-lanka-can-never-beat-the-west/

    The SL govt will not allow itself to be held hostage to patronising international ‘humanitarians’ whose only interest is now pursuing them for ‘war crimes’ trials. In case you’d forgotten even before the last shot was fired in May 2009, the UK & various EU countries tried and failed to punish Sri Lanka at the UNHRC for daring to ignore their wishes in how it prosecuted and crushed the LTTE. Remember the odious Eelam Fluffer Milliband coming to Colombo to tell Pres Rajapakse to stop the war? http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KE27Df01.html

    As much as I dislike and disagree with the SL govt’s post-war progress, to be lectured on humanitarian norms, war crimes and civilian casualties by Western humanitarians is like is like being given child care tips by King Herod.

    The world and the UK in particular did absolutely sweet f.a. (the US being an honourable exception) as Sri Lanka was nearly destroyed by LTTE terror, with EU-based diaspora Tamils being allowed to fundraise with impunity. A privilege not allowed to Al-Quaeda supporters living in the West.

    I don’t blame C4 for airing the video. It’s a great journalistic coup to get this footage out. Now its up to SL to do more than issue denials saying its all faked. It should find and persecute the soldiers involved and after a suitable pause, release them with suspended sentences, just like Western armies do. 🙂

    I’d like to see the UK make up for its past mistakes by arresting and persecuting known LTTE leader, funders and proven procurers of child soldiers currently living in London, like New Malden-based ‘Aunty’ Adele Balasingham seen here distributing cyanide capsules to Tamil child soldiers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqbj8PHTtHY

    Finally, in case you’d forgotten, Sri Lanka is no longer a colony of the UK. It will find its own way to deal with a terrible past which included three failed insurrections. Two by the Sinhalese-led JVP and one by the Tamil, LTTE.

  4. Frankie Ward · June 14, 2011

    I am not lecturing you or others, but I am declaring my belief that something should be done – and that Sri Lanka’s government has not made its intentions to act clear.

    I am also not criticising you or your views, but I also do not believe in labels such as ‘Loony Lefties’ or ‘Bleeding hearted humanitarians’.

    You say that you want the UK to make up for past mistakes, including arresting LTTE associates and this is a matter I am not fully informed of, but if you want this to occur, then surely both sides must be held to account (as I believe that they should for the war crimes committed by both parties).

    My article was admittedly a simple one – but intentionally so as an outsider. My sympathies are with the civilians caught in the middle.

    The documentary is not a ‘coup’ – other broadcasters had the footage and did nor air it. I am being presumptuous, but I gather that you have not seen the documentary in full yet.

  5. Mango · June 15, 2011

    Hi Frankie,
    But you (C4 and others like you) are lecturing and of course “something must be done”! Yes, “something had to be done” about the LTTE and it was, and during the “doing” thousands of innocent civilians were killed. The SL govt is responsible to its own electorate; not to Channel 4, UK-based activists, Amnesty International or segments of the pro-LTTE diaspora, none of whom did anything meaningful to destroy the LTTE. I’m more than happy to have my view criticised, and I find labels useful, because like all cliches, there’s a grain of truth in the labels.

    For instance, ‘Bleeding hearted humanitarians’ = Amnesty International & HRW and their failed struggle to stop the Sri Lankan war reaching its desired conclusion:
    http://thecarthaginiansolution.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/amnesty-intl-declares-war-on-sri-lanka/

    And even better, here’s Yolanda Foster (AI’s professional whiner about SL) with some idiot from the British Tamil Forum (an LTTE front) publicising the C4 documentary! 🙂 http://tinyurl.com/6b4hs9j

    ‘Loony Leftie; = Ken Livingstone who just loves LTTE Bus bombers, as long as they don’t bomb London: http://tinyurl.com/42fzqnu

    Of course both sides committed war crimes – there hasn’t been a single war without one. Happily the LTTE’s entire top leadership team was killed. So all that’s left is their overseas support network who enabled their war machine to function. So far, I haven’t seen any sign that these people will also be held to account. But remember also, winners don’t get tried for war crimes. That’s a privilege reserved for losers. Brutal, but true.

    As an outsider, if you’re going to opine on Sri Lanka’s Eelam Wars, you should at least learn a little bit about it before regurgitating McCray’s hysterical prose. Sri Lanka has unfortunately had three insurgencies. Two by the Sinhalese youth (JVP 1 and JVP 2) and the Eelam Wars 1-4, by the Tamils. Various SL govts used extremely brutal methods to crush the Pol-Pot style 2nd JVP insurgency. i.e. a mainly Sinhalese-dominated Armed forces successfully destroyed a Sinhalese insurgency.

    My sympathies are also with all civilians caught in the middle as the Tamil civilians were used as as human shields by the LTTE. Let’s not pretend otherwise. It was terrible, appalling, tragic and the responsibility for their deaths lies entirely at the feet of the LTTE and its supporters in the West. And guess what? The LTTE in the end were reduced to shooting their ‘own people’ as they tried to escape TOWARDS the government lines. The whole thing was captured by UAV footage. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjy7cOzxTVk&

    Even better, here’s a ‘brave’ female (Tamil) LTTE suicide bomber, clad in civilian clothes exploding herself and killing (Tamil) children and (Tamil) civilians escaping (Tamil) LTTE ‘freedom fighters’ by seeking shelter & protection in a (Genocidal Sri Lankan) Army IDP camp. Confusing, no?

    As for the documentary, it doesn’t tell me anything new, other than actual footage of war porn. We’ve seen every possible variation of bestial behaviour in SL, so no-one’s surprised that some surrendering LTTE were shot. This was an extremely dirty war, fought with dirty methods with little or no mercy shown on either side. Think of it like the Eastern Front in Asia. Why are dead LTTE terrorists stripped of their clothes? Because they often carry suicide bombs strapped to their body. It is standard practice in to strip all LTTE corpses to check for bombs. And then, the soldiers make dirty jokes about dead female terrorists. Oh. My. God. I’m shocked and appalled. Both sides executed prisoners and I’m appalled that SL troops lost their discipline as the war approached its end, and ended up shooting captured LTTEers. They must be identified and punished by the military courts. Same for any rape charges. In fact this will enforce military discipline.

    As for the ‘both sides must be judged’ argument, let those who wish to try SL, themselves submit to ‘international justice’, first.

    Anyway, don’t take my word for it. Those from the pro-LTTE spectrum will give you a diametrically opposed viewpoint on why they still need a Tamil homeland inside Sri Lanka. If you ever find yourself in discussions about the SL war with the pro-LTTE diaspora, ask them this question: Why didn’t they send their youth to Sri Lanka from 2006-2009 when the LTTE needed their manpower? And if you ever get an answer, let me know. The good guys didn’t win in Sri Lanka. The least-worst guys won.

    p.s The SL victory was a rare case of proving Luttwak’s seminal theory of ‘Giving War a Chance’ where he stated: “AN UNPLEASANT truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace. This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when one wins decisively. Either way the key is that the fighting must continue until a resolution is reached.” None of the human rights talking heads on yesterday’s documentary would ever admit that Luttwak was right. They dare not.

  6. Mango · August 2, 2011

    Hi Frank,
    OK, the blowback has started. I hope C4 got their lawyers to vet all of the footage and script before transmission? I hope not. Saint John Snow’s looking a lot less smug after this response from GoSL which (even allowing for their own slant on the events) lands a few telling blows on the ‘Killing Fields’ docu-soap. Enjoy…. http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=14361

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