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The Story of War Crimes Accusations in Sri Lanka

June 24, 2011

The Story of War Crimes Accusations in Sri Lanka

First Published 24 June 2011

The UN Experts Report

I spent a portion of last week reading over the ‘Report of the Secretary-General’s panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’. My conclusion was that it was one of the worst drafted reports I had ever read from a high level body. Not only were dates and places missing from many of the allegations, so too were sources. In fact many of the report’s claims were hearsay and the figure used were wildly speculative with the authors unable to decide whether it was 7000+ killed or 40,000+ killed in the final months. Naturally a sensation hungry media will always print the highest figure as if it is proven fact. The figure of 40,000 is so sensational that it is now a main weapon in propaganda for the remnants of the LTTE international support base. The naivety of the ‘panel’ was only exceeded by how unprofessionally it gathered its figures. Even the banned LTTE terrorist front TRO (Tamils Rehabilitation Organization) was used as a legitimate source (ref: page 30 footnote 57). This may be a slip up by the ‘panel of experts’ but it is not the only example of sloppiness. ‘Scope Creep’ seems to be its other failing. Failing to get the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary GotabayaRajapakse’s name correct is but another. (Incidentally his name is not ‘Basil’)

Yet I am not asking for the report to be scrapped completely as there is value some of what is written. Rather it needs to be redrafted so that it fits within the normal confines of supporting claims with direct evidence. Whereas Innuendo and unsubstantiated third party reports have the potential to destabilize post war Sri Lanka and reenergized LTTE fundraising. In Annex 2.16.1 of the ‘Report’ this possibility is alluded to:

“Some sleeping cadres with links abroad have been identified…”

“The apologists of the LTTE continue to propagate activities which include fundraising of so called dissident government, which is disinterested in supporting reconciliation…”

Initially the Government of Sri Lanka have treated the report with contempt and had chosen to pretend that its unanswered allegations are not damaging its image. In doing so it has also failed see that the report can and should be responded to in step by step manner. Those allegations that warrant investigation should be investigated and those that are completely baseless should be dispelled. Even with a report that lacks a great deal of professional credibility (like this one) it nonetheless has the UN logo (despite not being an official UN report). Thus the report is currently being used as a credible source by the media, politicians, activists and most importantly ‘LTTE apologists’.

Further fallout with the west

Already some of the least credible evidence has made it into the news cycle like self sustaining gossip. The British television station Channel4 has released a documentary making claims that 40,000 were killed and showed some horrific videos of executions and torture. Though these are serious allegations the videos used cannot be taken on face value as being evidence of widespread abuse by the Sri Lankan forces. It can be taken as evidence of individual abuse, but by whom?

The director of “Killing Fields” Callum McCrae

One of the videos showing naked people being executed is particularly horrific and is narrated accusation that there is evidence that the dead females show signs of sexual assault and rape by the Sri Lankan Army. Unfortunately the claims by Channel4 (C4) are just unsubstantiated ‘claims’ based upon an expert that they handpicked to look at images. In an interview with Groundviews the director of the program Callum McCrae explained that assessments of sexual assault and rape were based upon how the clothes were sitting in the photo. What McCrae failed to grasp is how subjective this method can be. Nor did it seem to register with him that accusations can be made by anyone, but without any evidence it falls into the domain of pure conjecture based upon a sole opinion.

Here is a link the interview http://soundcloud.com/sanjanahattotuwa/interview-with-callum-mccrae

The other problem with the video of executions has been found with the synchronization of the audio to the video leaving open accusations of being faked. Ironically another version of the same video that has Tamil voices speaking rather than Sinhalese. This may have been faked after the event or the video presented on C4 may have been faked. The real problem is that no one knows and we are unlikely to know unless the original unedited video is released. To date this has not happened.

This image is now decorating the website for the pro-LTTE British Tamils Forum BTF

As a result of the heart wrenching images, damning accusations and testimonies by selected experts and witness the C4 video has gained the attention of several INGOs like HRW, AI and even UN agents. Callum McCrae was even prepared to go to New York and present the video to the UN. Unfortunately he happened to arrive when the UN was voting to reinstate Ban ki Moon as its head and was left to present the video at the UN Church Centre.

If Callum McCrae and the C4 crew was expecting the usual lame reaction from the Sri Lankan government they were mistaken. When Maj. Gen. Amb. Shavendra Silva, the former commander of the 58th Division, stood at the podium he brought new evidence that demolished the credibility of key parts of the film. Most damning was his revelation that the filmmaker had left in an obviously staged scene of a family pretending to go into a bunker. He challenged the audience to independently have the dialogue translated from Tamil. He also pointed out that the filmmaker had deliberately shown one scene of bombing a jungle and then cut to the No Fire Zone which was in a completely different location. With McCrae sitting just a few meters away looking it was the closest he had come to being accused of deliberately manipulating the film in order to emotionally manipulate an audience.

McCrae’s response was to accuse Gen. Silva of avoiding scrutiny by failing to testify at the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) run in Sri Lanka. Gen. Silva responded that McCrae was totally wrong on that information as he had presented evidence on two separate occasions when he was asked. It was another humiliation for McCrae in front of delegates from the AI, HRW and (International Crisis Group) ICG.

Meanwhile in Europe

Victor Koppe

A petition has been lodged with European Union by lawyer Victor Koppe to overturn it prescription of the LTTE as terrorist organization.

According to the petition, one reason for the petition is the claim the LTTE prescription as a terrorist organization has led to the persecution of Tamils in Europe.

Other reason forwarded by Koppe state that:

“…international humanitarian law prevents intervention of third states with an armed conflict between a non-state actor in the pursuit of self-determination and a state”.

“…the LTTE do not amount to offences under national criminal law.”

“…the LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009 and are no longer active in Sri Lanka a review under article 1(6) of the Council Common Position 2001/931/CFSP would have removed the group from the list.”

Ref and interview with Victor Koppe can be found here: http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/06/12/petition-to-remove-ltte-from-eu-banned-list/

It is worth noting that despite the obvious propaganda value to remnants of the LTTE supporters this petition is likely to fail.

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