14 Jun 2011

LIVE BLOG: Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Jon Snow presents a forensic investigation into the final weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war, including new video evidence of war crimes. Watch Channel 4 at 11.05pm tonight. Add your voice here or via Twitter using the hashtag #killingfields.

• Channel 4 film triggers UK call for Sri Lanka investigation
• Documentary highlights new video evidence of executions
• Sri Lankan authorities repeat claim video is ‘fake’

New video evidence of the alleged executions of bound prisoners in Sri Lanka has been broadcast in Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields on Channel 4, as pressure builds for an international investigation. The Foreign Office has said Sri Lanka must now give a serious response to “convincing evidence of violations of human rights”.

Watch again: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields on 4oD

Channel 4 News has also revealed that Sri Lankan civilians face deportation from the UK despite ongoing human rights concerns in Sri Lanka.

Add your voice on Twitter using the hashtag #killingfields and via Facebook: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – A Channel 4 Investigation

Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow joins the live blog to answer your questions ahead of tonight’s screening on Channel 4 of a hard-hitting investigation into the final weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war. It features devastating video evidence of horrific war crimes.

Melb Tamilians via Facebook says Channel 4 is leading the way in “positive journalism”. Would you agree it is grim but “positive” work?

Jon: I think that sums it up, Mel. But it is potentially uplifting too if we alert enough people to do something about it… or do something about the issues we’re raising. In this case the evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

According to The Sun, Channel 4 head of current affairs Dorothy Byrne has “not” urged us to watch tonight because it is so “horrific”. Could it be too harrowing for some?

Jon: I think some people will find it too much, but sometimes our sensitivities are only taken to the point at which we ourselves respond, when overpowering images are in play.

@GTFonline via Twitter: What is your take on the claims by the Sri Lankan government that the footage contained in #killingfields is “fake”?

Read here: Reaction from Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence

Jon: Both we and the UN investigating panel have subjected the footage that we are using to forensic tests. The UN has declared the footage genuine and untampered with.

@thusi_kumar via Twitter: Given all that has emerged and as the Sri Lankan cricket team is here, do you believe it is time to boycott SL?

Jon: I think the horse has bolted on the cricket. Frankly, once you have had England playing a World Cup cricket match in Sri Lanka, there’s not much you can do when Sri Lanka come to play here. The fact is that as with the F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the cricket in Sri Lanka was used for propaganda purposes to suggest that life is normal.

@anotherarunan via Twitter: Jon, what do you expect the general UK media/general public reaction will be to tonight’s film?

Jon: I think people will be shocked, I hope some may question whether they ought to visit Sri Lanka on holiday in such circumstances. Others may go so far as to write to or email the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to get British action taken in the UN Security Council.

Jon Snow blogs:
Once or twice in a reporting lifetime, a journalist is allowed by events to participate in a project that can affect history.. It is a painful, and complex team achievement in which we have pieced together an account of what happened.
Read more: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – a project that can affect history.

Channel 4 News Foreign Editor Ben de Pear joins the live blog to answer questions about the continued investigation by his team into Sri Lanka war crimes allegations.

Ben, how did the investigation begin?

Ben: We started covering the end of Sri Lanka’s war in March 2009 when our Asia bureau of Nick Paton-Walsh, Matt Jasper, Nevine Mabro and Bessie Du were in the country for a number of weeks before being deported, after reporting allegations of abuses at resettlement camps.

So in effect, that’s when the investigation started.

@jonsnowC4 tweets: Please watch Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: it is about us all, and our duty one to another. It is a vital document that could mark a watershed

Then what?

Ben: After being banned from the country, we sent other journalists from Channel 4 News, including Jonathan Miller, into Sri Lanka to investigate conditions for Tamils after the end of the war. Soon after Jonathan’s report came out, we were sent the first of a series of extremely graphic but compelling videos which purported to show serious war crimes.

(Pictured: Campaigners in Parliament Square)

The Sri Lankan government claimed the video was faked and made a series of formal complaints through the regulator Ofcom, all of which were rejected. Then the United Nations carried out a formal investigation into the video and claimed that to the best of its knowledge it was authentic.

Since then the Sri Lankan government has continued with its assertion that no civilians died at the end of the war. And we have continued to show videos and tell the stories of those who claim they witnessed tens of thousands of civilians dying in the final weeks. A UN special panel assembled by the Secretary-General wrote an extensive report citing our footage and scores of witnesses and thousands of photographs as credible proof of war crimes.

There is new footage being aired tonight in Killing Fields – what does it reveal?

Ben: Late last year Dorothy Byrne, head of current affairs at Channel 4, commissioned ITN Productions and the director Callum Macrae to make a special one-hour film. It’s an incredible piece of work.

Following the stories of three or four central characters and using all of the graphic video, it tells the story of the end of Sri Lanka’s war in a way that we cannot on the news, for reasons of taste and time limitations.

“My film Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields exposes atrocities committed against civilian Tamils that the UN must not ignore.” Read Callum Macrae’s blog at guardian.co.uk

During Callum’s exhaustive examination of all the video and through extensive contacts in Sri Lanka, he has uncovered the personal stories of previously nameless victims as well as obtaining a searing execution video – never before seen.

Is tonight the culmination of Channel 4’s investigations, or only a step along the way?

Ben: It depends on what the United Nations and the international community decide to do. The ball is now in Ban ki-moon’s court.

Question via Twitter: @JoeThorpe1963: What was your solution to the problem of decades of terror from the Tamil separatists?

Ben: Hi Joe. We don’t purport to have solutions but we do report what we believe to have happened. There is no doubt that both sides were guilty of egregious crimes, not least the Tamil Tigers who pioneered the use of suicide bombers and child soldiers. However, many people including senior people in the UN have extensively questioned the methods of overwhelming force and extensive shelling of civilian areas used by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The story so far: Tonight on Channel 4 –  Jon Snow presents a forensic investigation into the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the secessionist rebels, the Tamil Tigers. The programme features devastating new video evidence of war crimes – some of the most horrific footage Channel 4 has ever broadcast.

Full programme details here: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

The documentary pulls together the findings of a continued investigation by Channel 4 News, which began more than two years ago.

Add your voice via comments below, on Twitter using the hashtag #killingfields or on Facebook: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – A Channel 4 Investigation