20 Apr 2011

Sri Lanka: evidence of ongoing repression and abuse

Channel 4 News obtains exclusive footage from the “closed off”corner of northern Sri Lanka, showing evidence of camps, repression and abuse, ahead of the publication of the UN’s report on war crimes.

Warning: distressing images in this report

Two years on from the end of the devastating 26-year civil war that ripped Sri Lanka apart, Channel 4 News has obtained rare footage from inside the country’s northern corner, formerly the Tamil stronghold.

This area has remained largely inaccessible since the end of the war and our footage was obtained by an independent source, who put their life at risk to film the material. The area remains under military control, and people still live in fear.

Sri Lanka: (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of Tamils are still forced to live in makeshift camps and our film shows evidence and testimony of sytematic repression and the abuse of women.


Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to have died in the final few months of the Sri Lanka war, and many more were displaced.

Channel 4 News has also obtained documents which suggest that almost 100,000 people were unaccounted for at the end of the conflict.

Sri Lankan Government records show that, in 2008, 430,000 people were living in the northern area of Sri Lanka most affected by the civil war. After the chaos of the final few months of war, the Government moved civilians into camps – but UN figures mark only 290,000 held there. The whereabouts of the 100,000 or so remaining is unknown.

Many people are still searching for their families. Others want justice: including Dr Manoharan, who saw his son killed by security forces in 2006. He told Channel 4 News he had been searching for justice for his son, and all the other victims in Sri Lanka, ever since.

Read more: the full response from the Sri Lankan High Commission 

Click on the image above to read more of Channel 4 News' coverage on the Sri Lanka war
Click on the image above to read more Channel 4 News coverage on the Sri Lanka war.

‘War crimes’ report

On Thursday, the UN will publish a report into the final months of the Sri Lanka war. The report, which has already been leaked, is expected to point to “crimes against humanity” which, if proven, suggest a “grave assault” on international law.

It will suggest that both the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) committed war crimes. The Government is accused of executions, rape and torture, as well as bombing civilians and hospitals, while the report suggests the Tamil Tigers used human shields and child soldiers.

The UN panel investigating the war also considered evidence submitted to them by Channel 4 News, in the form of an execution video which appeared to show clear evidence of war crimes.

The Sri Lankan Government has not responded fully to the report yet, but earlier branded it “fundamentally flawed”.

Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka during the Government’s offensive against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, compared the war crimes claims to the infamous massacre of 7,000 men during the Bosnian war in 1995.

He told Channel 4 News: “This is Sri Lanka’s Srebrenica moment, in fact it’s a Srebrenica moment for the rest of the world.”