Sri Lanka's Killing Fields


Jon Snow presents an investigation into the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war between the government and the secessionist rebels, the Tamil Tigers; featuring devastating new video evidence of war crimes - some of the most horrific footage Channel 4 has ever broadcast.

Captured on mobile phones, both by Tamils under attack and government soldiers as war trophies, the disturbing footage shows: the extra-judicial executions of prisoners; the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian camps and dead female Tamil fighters who appear to have been raped or sexually assaulted, abused and murdered.

The film airs as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faces growing criticism for refusing to launch an investigation into, "credible allegations," that Sri Lankan forces committed war crimes during the closing weeks of the bloody conflict with the Tamil Tigers. Last month, Ban Ki-moon published a report by a UN-appointed panel of experts which concluded that as many as forty thousand people were killed in the final weeks of the decades-long war between the Tamil Tigers and government forces. It called for the creation of an international mechanism to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by government forces and the Tamil Tigers during that time.

This film provides powerful evidence which will lends new urgency to the panel's call for an international inquiry to be mounted - including harrowing interviews with eye-witnesses, new photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage and satellite imagery. Also examined in the film are some of the horrific atrocities carried out by the Tamil Tigers who used civilians as human shields. The film includes footage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in government centre for the displaced.

Experts on human rights law are interviewed in the film including former UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka Gordon Weiss, Amnesty International's International Advocacy Director Steve Crawshaw and international Human Rights Professor William Schabas. They say they believe this evidence represents a compelling case for war crimes investigation and prosecution.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields includes full-length videos of naked and bound Tiger prisoners kneeling whilst they are shot in the back of their heads by men in army uniforms. When extracts of some of these videos were first shown on Channel 4 News the Sri Lankan government denounced them as fake - and have refused to accept they are real - despite being authenticated by UN specialists. In new footage, a Tiger prisoner is shown tied to a coconut tree. The same prisoner is captured in a series of photos - at first alive, threatened with a knife and then dead and covered with blood.

Further videos show evidence of systemic murder, abuse and sexual violence - women's bodies stripped of their clothes being dumped into trucks by soldiers. The film includes an interview with a woman who, with a group of civilians, handed herself and daughter over to government forces. She claims they were both raped; she witnessed others being raped, she heard screaming and shots and never saw them again.

The film reveals how the Sri Lankan government sought a war without witness, pressurising UN representatives to leave before it launched its major offensive designed to crush the Tigers and their fight for an independent state.

But in this film, people who bore witness to the terrible events tell their stories. A British Sri Lankan woman visiting relatives found herself caught up with hundreds of thousands of displaced people seeking shelter in a government-designated ‘no fire' zone. She helped assist in makeshift hospitals which should have been off limits from military attack. She believes it was deliberately shelled and she detailed how the attacks were relentless - each time the hospital was moved to a new position they came under fire from heavy artillery. Her claims are vindicated by the UN report.

She describes the death and terror wreaked by these attacks and the rudimentary conditions in the encampments. She describes helping a doctor amputate a six-year -old boy's leg with no anaesthetic in a bid to save his life.

Videos shot from inside the ‘no fire' zones show the raids, the horrific devastation of the shelling and are testament to the starvation and horrific conditions endured in the civilian camps during that time. Whilst other interviewees describe attacks on civilian convoys - one man describes watching his 14-year-old son die after his lorry was hit.

Channel 4 News has consistently reported on the bloody denouement of Sri Lanka's civil war. Two years on, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields presents a further damning account of the actions of Sri Lankan forces - a war which the government still insists was conducted with a policy of Zero Civilian Casualties. The film raises serious questions about the consequences if the UN fails to act - not only for Sri Lanka but for future violations of international law.

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