27 Mar 2014

Sri Lanka ‘war crimes’: the evidence

As the UN prepares to launch an inquiry into allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, Channel 4 News presents the evidence collected by this programme over the past five years.

Sri Lanka war crimes: the evidence

Since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, in which atrocities are reported to have been committed by both the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, Channel 4 News has aired shocking footage of alleged violations.

The footage includes evidence of prisoner executions, sexual violence and the targeting of civilians.

Below, Channel 4 News presents the evidence that may be of interest to the UN inquiry collected since the war’s end in 2009 (warning, videos contain footage that viewers may find distressing).

August 2009

Channel 4 News first broadcasts footage from inside the final stages of the war. The footage, apparently showing government troops executing Tamil prisoners, was smuggled out of Sri Lanka by a democracy campaign group.

The Sri Lankan government dismissed the footage as “fake”, but a UN report, including frame-by-frame analysis, said the video “appears authentic” and that there was no evidence that the video was faked.

In May 2010, a senior Sri Lankan commander and a frontline soldier told Channel 4 News that such killings did take place, and that they were “ordered from the top”.

November 2010

Channel 4 News obtained new images of the above incident, which raised new questions. The footage reveals the naked, dead bodies of at least seven women – suggesting that sexual assaults may have taken place.

Sri Lanka’s High Commission told Channel 4 News that it “categorically denies” that the video was authentic. A leading war crimes lawyer said the footage was “clear evidence of the execution of unarmed combatants or civilians.”

December 2010

A close friend and colleague identifies one of the bodies from footage shown by Channel 4 News as Isaipriya, a TV presenter and member of the LTTE’s propaganda wing.

The Sri Lanka High Commission told Channel 4 News that “‘Lt. Col. Issei Piriya’ was engaged in a hostile operation against the Sri Lankan forces when she met her end”. Video evidence that comes later suggests that this was not the case.

April 2011

Channel 4 News obtains exclusive footage from the “closed off” corner of northern Sri Lanka, showing evidence of repression and abuse in internment camps.

Sri Lanka’s High Commission said the Channel 4 News report lacked “credibility, transparency and verifiability” and said the report was part of a “sinister campaign”.

In June, a Channel 4 feature, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, was screened for the UN Human Rights Council. The film showed disturbing footage of the alleged massacre of prisoners, the targeted shelling of hospitals and the bodies of female Tamil fighters allegedly sexually assaulted.

July 2011

Two eyewitnesses tell Channel 4 News orders came from the top to “finish it off” – meaning, it was suggested, ending the civil war no matter how many civilian fatalities were inflicted.

The witnesses named the people who gave orders, and also told Channel 4 News about the brutal actions of soldiers.

November 2011

Evidence of torture since the end of the war was broadcast by Channel 4 News in November 2011.

Several Tamils described being beaten with steel cables, being dunked in water, having cigarettes stubbed out on skin and being given urine to drink.

The newly announced UN inquiry will look at allegations of continuing human rights violations, as well as war crimes allegedly committed during the civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government dismissed the reports as “preposterous”.

October 2013

Ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government summit in 2013, Channel 4 News revealed new evidence around the fate of TV presenter Isaipriya. The footage shows her alive and in the custody of government forces.

Previous video footage had shown Isaipriya dead, including clear evidence that she had been sexually assaulted.

The footage was shown in the Channel 4 film No Fire Zone.

March 2014

More footage emerges from the Sri Lankan civil war, but this time, journalist Callum Macrae says, it is “amongst the worst I have ever seen.”

The footage appears to show Sri Lankan soldiers sexually violating the dead bodies of female Tamil Tiger fighters. In two cases the dead have serious head wounds – possibly a sign that they were executed.

The Sri Lankan High Commission said the allegations were “unmitigated and unsubstantiated rubbish”, and part of a “propagandist vendetta”.

Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council vote, Channel 4 News also aired an interview with a Sri Lankan doctor, who stayed in Sri Lanka’s “No Fire Zone” at the end of the civil war to care for the injured.

He was imprisoned at the end of the war, and, he says, offered his freedom if he agreed to deny that human rights violations had been carried out by the Sri Lankan military.

Now free, he told Channel 4 News of the horror of trying to care for the wounded elderly and women, as food and medical supplies ran out and the government shelled hospitals.