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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