10 Jun 2011

Channel 4 to broadcast Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

A special one-hour film showing devastating new evidence of war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war is to be broadcast in the UK.

A special one-hour film showing devastating new evidence of war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war is to be broadcast in the UK.

The film documents the final bloody weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war and features damning new evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The film Sri Lanka Killing Fields includes footage of apparent extra-judicial massacres of prisoners by Sri Lankan government forces, the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian hospitals and the bodies of female Tamil fighters who appear to have been sexually assaulted.

The film does not only focus on the Sri Lankan government troops – it also examines atrocities carried out by the Tamil Tigers, including the use of human shields, and footage depicting the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a government centre for the displaced.

Presented by Jon Snow, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, was shown to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of May.

The UN screening was attended by a number of ambassadors from nations including the US and UK.

Jon Snow says the film is “one of the most important” stories he has ever reported saying:

“It tells the story of the bloody end to Sri Lanka’s civil war – in which at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed. I have reported civil wars before, not least in Central America in the 1980s but I have never seen such graphic evidence, often at the hands of government soldiers themselves of what have all the hallmarks of war crimes.

“The film is important in that it represents one of the most shocking films ever screened on Channel 4. It has to be so, there are accusations of war crimes by both sides.

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“This film is also vastly important because, it represents the conclusion of two years’ worth of courageous journalism by the Channel 4 News team in the face of great adversity including repeated challenges to our integrity by the Sri Lankan authorities.

“It forms a vital part of the evidence of alleged war crimes – crimes, allegations which the UN itself has called “credible”. It shows Channel 4 putting a campaign for truth and justice at the very centre of its News and Current Affairs output. And above all, it shines bright unflinching light on a terrible crime – a crime which so far has gone unpunished.”

Channel 4 News first broadcast the footage allegedly showing government troops executing Tamil prisoners in August 2009.

Last November, a second video of the same massacre emerged, revealing the naked dead bodies of at least seven women. The faces of some of the government troops could also be seen.

Following an investigation, Channel 4 News identified of one of the female victims in the video as a high profile member of the Tamil Tiger communications team. A potential date and location of the massacre was also determined.

A UN special envoy said the footage appeared to be evidence of “serious international crimes”.

The Sri Lankan government has consistently rejected the footage as falsified.

As the UN says it will continue its investigations, pressure has increased on the Sri Lankan authorities to allow an international inquiry into allegations that thousands of civilians were killed at the end of the 26-year war.

Channel 4’s Head of News & Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne, who commissioned the programme, says:

“The footage is probably the most horrific the channel has ever shown. The decision to show it at length was made only after serious and careful consideration. We believe this dossier of visual evidence combined with harrowing eye-witness testimony represents prima facie evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces of the Government of Sri Lanka. It is of the greatest possible public interest and as such we have a duty to journalistically scrutinise it.”

The film, directed by Callum Macrae, provides powerful evidence – including photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage and satellite imagery – which contradicts the Sri Lankan government’s claims of a policy of ‘Zero Civilian Casualties’. The film raises serious questions about the failures of the international community to intervene and prevent the deaths of up to 40,000 people and lends new urgency to the UN-appointed panel of expert’s call for an international inquiry to be mounted.

Macrae said: “The Sri Lankan government wanted a war without witness – deporting journalists and pressurising UN representatives to leave – but it didn’t allow for the extraordinary power of mobile phone and satellite technology. We have trawled through hours of painfully raw recordings of the some of the most awful events I have ever seen in many years of war reporting. Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields raises serious questions about the consequences if the UN fails to act – not only for Sri Lanka but for future violations of international law.”

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields will be transmitted in the UK on 14 June, and will be available online shortly afterwards.