Published on 28 Mar 2012

Cricket amid war crimes unpunished

Cricket’s vast achievement in Sri Lanka today is to have conjured a blanket of turf, leather, and willow that saves most of us from having to think of Sri Lanka in any other light. But elsewhere on this sumptuous isle there is a bad light that stopped play altogether – play amongst the children women and men who died in the closing weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The beguiling, tiny, round, ground at Galle in the south is as far from the Jaffna Peninsula as you can reach without leaving the country altogether.

The English cricketing authorities plumped to resume ‘business as usual’ in a country which is facing international excoriation in the light of a growing mountain of evidence pointing to horrific war crimes.

Amid the sweat, the heat, and the romance of this colonial ground, cricket has ensured that a whole world of sport is absorbed in a game, whilst the fate of up to 40,000 civilians (UN expert panel estimate) slaughtered on fields on the very same island lie unaddressed and largely unmentioned.

It is just three years since the Sri Lankan military herded 120,000 Tamils into an ever decreasing ‘no fire’ zone. Every time the Tamils moved, they moved their ragged shelters and their makeshift clinics with them. As in all war, the International Red Cross identified the clinics to the ‘other side’ to safeguard them from bombardment. That ‘other side’ was the government side, whose shells rained down on the fragile facilities.  As the military shrank the ‘no fire’ zones, so the shelling and bombing intensified.

By the end, the United Nations estimates that up to 40,000 women, children and men lay dead. The Tamil Tigers are not blameless of course – the UN’s expert panel found credible evidence of war crimes on either side, but the vast majority of deaths were caused by government shelling.

Widespread access to simple mobile phones ensured that many Sri Lankans recorded what happened – either as fleeing Tamil refugees, or as triumphant soldiers recording the trophy footage of their own abuse, raping, and killing.

This is the footage that contributed to Channel 4‘s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – War Crimes Unpunished‘.

In normalising life as soon as possible, the cricketing authorities have been joined by the leaders of the Commonwealth, who have decided to hold their 2013 meeting in Sri Lanka. The leaders have chosen to ignore the UN Human Rights Committee vote calling upon Sri Lanka to investigate the evidence of war crimes thoroughly and hold those responsible to account. That Commonwealth meeting will be presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

And who is he? The evidence laid out in the ‘Killing Fields’ documentary points to the direct involvement of Mr Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence minister, in the massacre in the closing weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war. They have yet to be properly investigated – the Sri Lankan authorities categorically reject the evidence and the allegations as ‘malicious’. For the two men at the top of Sri Lanka,  ‘normalisation’ cannot come fast enough.

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39 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    Congratulations on keeping this terrible tragedy in the public eye. In my view this is what true journalism is all about. This is in the best traditions of Ed Morrow and John Pilger. Thank you.

    That term “no fire zone” reminds us of the importance of words and phrases used in propaganda. Over the years, Noam Chomsky has been particularly brilliant at pointing this out.

    It smacks of “strategic hamlets” the Americans forced in Vietnam with advice from the British. Brit colonials had of course used the same method in Malaya during the “emergency” caused by “bandits.” In truth they were nothing but concentration camps, another invention of British colonialism during the Boer War.

    Now…can we please have the same journalist standards applied to home news? You could start with follow up and exposure of how a British cabinet actively considered economic abandonment of Merseyside because of political opposition. Funny how this slipped from right wing media attention after release of secret cabinet papers……

    What’s sauce for the Sri Lankan goose is surely the same for the British gander? Or is something else in play here?

  2. Saltaire Sam says:

    Sport has so little morality, it comes as no surprise that cricket chooses to ignore what C4 has so vividly portrayed.

    Perhaps we should reverse the meaning of the words sporting or sportsmanship.

    That the Commonwealth chose the same path is even more disgraceful. How come Sri Lanka is still in the Commonwealth, let alone hosting it?

  3. Margaret brandreth-jones says:

    How can those Ceylonese ever feel normal again? Families and frends slaughtered, mutilated and degraded ,children blown to unrecognisable fragments of flesh, women and men howling in torture , misery and emotional pain.

    How can it be possible that the president denies the evidence before his eyes. He should be fleeing in shame.What is normal for him involves a time warp in history , obliterating cruel events of the last 8 years and that is impossible.
    The denial in itself is disgustingly immoral , hardfaced and mentally insufficient. Contrition and an attempt at escape would at least attribute him with an awareness of good from bad.

    Anyone for a few overs.!

  4. Philip says:

    Amazing optimism to think that the MCC bother about minor things like genocidal massacres (or previously apartheid) unless they are either made to look extraordinarily bad publicly or lose money.

  5. johnny says:

    Again the brother is not the defence minister he is secretary of defence and the mastermind behind the genocide.

  6. Phil Gray says:

    channel4 seems to have chosen a side here

    1. RTV says:

      Not bad as it is the correct side anyway

    2. Bharat says:

      You are right. Channel 4 has chosen the victims side.

    3. JJ says:

      In the presence overwhelming evidence, there is only one side any moral person can choose. The Sri Lankan government must answer the questions raised by the UN and those questions will show that blame lies with the Sri Lankan government. Why else are they afraid to launch an unbiased, independent investigation?

    4. Jason says:

      Tamil terrorist proxies has infilterated Channel4 and John Snow must pocketing considerable amount of money to be this actively on propaganda..

    5. RTV says:

      If you Sri Lankan State Terrorists have nothing to hide, why do not you face the investigation

  7. John B says:

    “the Sri Lankan military herded 120,000 Tamils” – that’s the most blatant perversion of the truth that I’ve yet seen spewed by John Snow. Is an asylum seeker writing these articles for you? Have you even bothered to do any research yourself? The Sri Lankan government is run by a nepotistic ruling family which has taken corruption to new heights in the country. However, they have no interest whatsoever in killing Tamil civilians – Tamil casualties effect the ruling family’s economic interests.

    Tamil civilians were corralled by the LTTE rebels and used as human shields around rebel military position. Those who fled were shot. All this is also in the UN report, but you conveniently ignore these sections of the report.

    If you are so interested in Sri Lanka, why don’t you also investigate the 120,000 dead Sinhalese in two Marxists rebellions? Separatist (northern Tamil rebels) and Marxist (southern Sinhalese rebels) movements are just symptoms of underlying poverty and the lack of opportunity away from the capital Colombo. Instead critically analysing the situation on the ground, Channel 4 seems happy to regurgitate whatever Tamil asylum seekers tell them.

    1. Eelathamilan says:

      Mr. John B,
      Your interest on John Snow’s article and your comment speaks for itself and your intergrity. I dont think you have done any study (not even basic) on the subject of this ethinic conflict in Srilanka. On the contrary Mr. John Snow had done enough research on this subject and also what your government did and how they got India mingled into this scenario. Your anger on your country’s poverty does not justify the brutal manslauter ordered by your leaders and carried out by your socalled patriotic military.

  8. e says:

    This being just one example of ‘business as usual’ in the face of culpability being clear, understood and documented brings to mind Robin Cooks’ attempt to develop a framework for an ethical Foreign policy; since which hopes for a moral Britannia have receded way, way into the distance.

    There’s surely something seriously wrong: we have mass media coverage and 24hour news, so why so few voices telling us about judicial systems being ignored in the face of blatant crimes against humanity?

  9. jeyam says:

    It is really a shame that the English cricket team will be not only playing on the soil where more than hundred thousand civilians were massacred but also be shaking the blood soaked hands of those murderers.
    Thank you for your excellent journalism.

  10. Ron Timar says:

    War against terrorism lead into UN pullout & media blackout….then no fire zone….then zero civilian casualty humanitarian operation….after all those lies we saw at the end 40,000 innocent people were killed. Far beyond channel4 taking a side it’s a good study for international community to avoid future atrocity.

  11. RajasH says:

    John thanks for keeping this issue burning. Lets now focus on the 2013 commonwealth summit. I doubt the venue will be shifted at this late stage, but let bring the commonwealth delegates to shame, when they shake hand with the President of Sri Lanka the blood of those 40,000 to 100,00, will rub on to the delegates as well.Shame on them.

  12. Vasan says:

    I admire you, Jon. While BBC publishing insignificant news about Sri Lanka, playing down war crime issues, consuming tax payers money and keeping a resident repoter in that country, you do what a true journalist has to do. You are a selfless champion of human rights and you opened the eyes and the hearts of the world to see and feel the pain of those poor Tamils in Sri Lanka.
    Now the would share your view that war criminals and violaters of human rights in Sri Lanka have to be punished appropriately. Tamils deserve justice.

  13. Sinniah says:

    Channel 4 have to go a long way to teach one and all in the fields of sports,polit(r)ics, social eguality and so on ,because the ability to understand without bias and intaking the truth among them seems to be VERY low due to SELFISH motives predominant in their mind starta.

    Try and try without fail!!!!!

    Not only tamils but also those who want honest way of governing will honour and support the SERVICE of C4…

  14. mathan says:

    How can it be possible that the president denies the evidence before his eyes.

    If UN investigate the last 30 year conflict , world would be in a shock because over the last thirty years of war Srilankan government had killed a million tamils. one million fled the country and a million tamils displaced internally. but srilankan government had been removing names from voters lists quitely. stop taking censes in tamil areas. there are measures and mechanism in place to cover up the genocide that had been taking place.

    if the readers may remember when at least 300,000 tamils traped in the No Fire zonee , world was told only 60,000 people are in the area. because they calculated that is the amount of people would make it after the carpet bomb.
    it was UN released Picture showed 100,000 tents in the area world realised there is much more than 60K people in the area.
    now the world leaders and UN must protect the tamils that have been living in the country before they are being wiped out slowly.

  15. adrian clarke says:

    It is a pity that Channel 4 takes the side of terrorists, which the Tamil tigers definitely were.Not only that , but with questionable archives tries to prove genocide,from a purely journalistic perspective,not a legal one.
    Cricket has nothing to do with this biased reporting,and good for them that they chose to go ahead with the tour.

    1. Margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Adrian there are no sides where genocide is concerned, whoever commits the atrocities. The denial that suffering to this extent has happened, is wicked.

    2. Jeyam says:

      Adrian look up the UN convention on Genocide. The convention defines genocide as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. This includes such acts as:

      Killing members of the group
      Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
      Deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to physically destroy the group (the whole group or even part of the group)
      Forcefully transferring children of the group to another group

    3. Eelathamilan says:

      Mr. Adrian Clarke,
      I think you believe your mother, because you just accepted someone as your father based on your mothers word. But you refuse to accept the words of a whole society that supports LTTE as their Freedom Fighters, for the sake of a few money minded traitors and opportunists, who claim that LTTE is terrorist movement. What kind of logic do you have. I pitty your teacher and your parents.

    4. RTV says:

      “questionable archives”? Care to prove it?

      If you have nothing hide, why do not you state terrorist face an Independent International Investigation and prove it once and for all.

  16. jon snow says:

    Adrian we have never denied that the Tamil Tigers were terrorists..we have reported their atrocities down the years..what we have reported and what the United Nations own investigation has shown that up to 40,000 CIVILIANS (not tamil Tigers) were slaughtered..some of them undoubtedly related to or in community with the Tigers..but they were unarmed and fleeing the bombardment. It may be an inconvenient truth for you Adrian, but i’m afraid the Geneva Convention is designed to protect such people.No doubt you disapproved of George Bush’s suspension of the Convention in Iraq..Do we have to approve of it in Sri Lanka?

  17. Scrivanam says:

    All the murders and mayhem by Sri Lankan governments since the 1970s to date and yet continuing albeit at a low rate even after 3 years of the end of the so-called “wars” resulting in several hundreds of thousands dead, mutilated and damaged for life have been made possible as a result of total impunity imparted to the ethnic armed services and nearly mono-ethnic police under the draconian PTA lifted out of former S.Africa under then Apartheid regime to re-inforce its aberrant policies. Its infamy resulted in the Commonwealth and other countries boycott of that country including in cricket and rugby which ultimately resulted in a radical change of course for the better. The two Channel 4 videos on Sri Lanka have done yeomen service in a vivid fashion to portray the horrors of that conflict. It may well have also influenced the ultimate decision in Geneva recently to finally hold that government to account for mass crimes against humanity. The subject is far from finished. Hope (and pray) Jon Snow will keep an eye on further developments by a recalcitrant government.

  18. Tamil Guardian says:

    Thank You Mr Jon Snow.
    All Tamils are very thankful to Channel 4, USA, UK and Canada for their efforts in pushing for an independent investigation into war crimes in SL.

    Many people died without anyone to report/record their deaths. The true figure of Tamils killed over the last 60 years in Sri Lanka is 300,000. Many thousands injured or lost their limbs, many raped/tortured and illegally imprisoned (/without charge).

    Channel 4 is a pioneer, and has set an example for the rest of intl media.

  19. Robert Taggart says:

    You cannot blame the indigenous Sinhalese peoples for wanting to defend the integrity of their country from the Blighty imported aliens – the Tamils.
    The Tamils have their own homeland – Tamilnadu – on the Indian mainland. Methinks there be plenty of room for them ‘back home’ ?!

    1. Rajah says:


      Please understand the history of the island – Tamils have been living in the island as long as what you call indegenous sinhalese, if not longer. Exposing your ignorance is not a good thing on a public forum.

    2. Eelathamilan says:

      Mr. Robert,
      You have got your history mixed up. Your reference to the imported aliens starts from the British occupation of your country (the hill country). The existance of Tamils (Dhravidan)date back to the Grate King Ravana in Ramayanam. Please brush up your Literature and History. However your comment speaks for your people’s brutality and vouch for the authenticity of John Snow’s comments on your country.

    3. Robert Taggart says:

      @Rajah. Our ‘ignorance’ be based on what other people – who one knows – from both India and Sri Lanka – tell us.
      The Sinhalese have nowhere else to call home – unlike the ‘imported’ Tamils !

    4. RTV says:

      You might want to take a lesson on Citizenship, but then again I am not holding my breath on that as your ignorance might be in the way.

    5. Rajah says:

      @Taggart – So you have learnt your history from a bunch of people from India and SriLanka? I am an Indian Tamil and I KNOW the full rich, long history of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Do you know that sinhalese are also an “imported” bunch? British “imported” some Tamils to work in tea estates (proud of it – heh?) and we are NOT talking about them (although they also bear the brunt of sinahalese domination. Please see if you can learn more about these people instead of calling them “blightly imported aliens” – you almost sound like a sinhalese with a pseudoname!

  20. Rajah says:

    Mr. Snow,

    The global community thanks you and your C4 Team for exposing the scumbags who are the rulers of Sri Lanka. Killing your own citizens and imprisoning them like cattle just because they speak a differnt language is abominable. I live in the USA and here no “so called News channels” ever bothered to cover this human tragedy of epic proportion. I sincerely hope the decent sinahalese (hopefully they still exist even in small numbers) understand the monsteroctiy of this regime and work towards making the lives of everyone in the island beter real soon – it is in their hands. Once again, thank you for the outstanding journalism.

  21. Eelathamilan says:

    Dear John,
    While appreciating your noble effort to bring the culprit to justice, sorry to say that you were a little late in this matter. The attrocities committed by the Singhala government against the Tamil community had been brought to public by many media personnel since 1983 with ample evdences. They cried out to the international society and to the UN on numerous occations to intervene and end these attrocities. Even BBC turned a blind eye when one of their own reporter was deported from Srilanka for shedding light on the Srilankan ethenic issue. A number of Tamil and Singhalese news reporter were killed for writing the true side of the issue. America and Japan turned a blind eye on the issue when it was brought out in Oslo. The net effect of this negligence is the loss of scores of human lives and emission of war crime. Can the UN / US / EU / GB justify for their mistake of negligence.

    1. Robert Taggart says:

      The solution be quite simple…
      Sri Lanka for the Sinhalese.
      Tamil Nadu for the Tamils.
      Sorted !
      For the record… oneself has no loyalty to any country over that way – just a wish to see the indigenous Sinhalese protect what be rightly theirs.

  22. Asi says:

    Dear Jon, i respect your work, however on Sri-Lanka you have a provided a very unbalanced coverage of our country and this is extremely disappointing. You give the impression of being very pro Tamil Nationalist and just repeating the propaganda of the GTF, Tamil Net, who have the agenda of Tamil Eelam in SL. These people have little respect for multiculuralism in SL or a united country. Of course those in the SLA and LTTE who hav committed war crimes must be brought to justice by the courts in SL. GOSL must encourage localism and better devolution and rights for all its citizens- irrespective of their ethnic background or faith. However it very clear that you and Ch4 have conveniently forgotton about the LTTE, their terrorism and also the fantastic work being carried about SL NGOs and others in our country- often across ethnic and faith lines. Look at the fantastic work of Sri Lanka Unites or SOS Childrens Villages. We are not Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, Veddah, Muslim, hindu, buddhism, Christian or secular, we are SRI-LANKANS. I urge people and particularly the disapora to support ALL THE PEOPLE OF SRI-LANKA.

  23. di says:

    Robert Taggart….. I totally agree with you!

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