“SRI LANKA ’S KILLING FIELDS” Part 3
Posted on July 3rd, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The three Channel Four documentaries, Sri Lanka’s Killing fields”, (2011) Sri Lanka’s killing fields: War Crimes Unpunished” .(2012) No Fire Zone, the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka (2015))  are propaganda films intended to support the  war crimes charges against Sri Lanka. They were done to help UNHRC to target Sri Lanka. The films were aimed at gullible television audiences, equally gullible UNHRC members, and the foreign governments which bleat on behalf of the USA.

These three films are like Russian dolls, each film is an expanded version of the previous film. The footage consisted of three segments. The first segment showed the   summary execution of bound, blindfolded, and naked Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers. Second segment showed images of dead females who may have been sexual assaulted and the third showed suffering civilians in the conflict zone.

The  films   also featured interviews with Sir John Holmes,   head of UN humanitarian operations, British Foreign Secretary David  Miliband, Benjamin Dix, a British UN worker based in Kilinochchi, Gordon Weiss, the UN’s official spokesman in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the civil war,  William Schabas, international human rights lawyer, Steve Crawshaw  and Sam Zarifi of Amnesty International.

The second film Killing fields unpunished”   was prepared because the UN had still not taken action. The ‘final’ film was ‘No Fire Zone’, directed by the prize winning Callum Macrae. This was described as something of an international phenomenon. Not just an agenda setting investigation, but a cinematic tour de force – a stunning and disturbing film in its own right.

It was described as “beautifully crafted and heart wrenching” by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in Washington, “utterly convincing” by the Globe and Mail in Toronto – and in the UK, Empire noted: “It is vitally important that this feature reaches the widest possible audience”. One critic in Australia described it as the most devastating film I have seen”, whilst the London Film Review says “No Fire Zone shocks on every level. It shocks, it educates, and it convinces” the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:”No Fire Zone is one of the most chilling documentaries I’ve watched

The leading western countries responded   to these films exactly as expected. British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt issued a statement on 15 June 2011 in which he expressed shock at horrific scenes in the documentary.[Burt stated that the documentary, along with other evidence, constituted “convincing evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law” and urged the Sri Lankan government “to give a serious and full response”.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd stated that “No-one watching this program could emerge from that undisturbed and we don’t either”. He called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to re-investigate alleged war crimes and examine whether the UNHRC’s original findings [resolution A/HRC/S-11/L.1/Rev.2 passed on 27 May 2009] “can any longer be regarded as well founded”. The Australian Senate passed motion number 323 on 7 July 2011 which, amongst other things, noted that the documentary was “further shocking evidence supporting allegations of war crimes committed during the 2009 civil conflict in Sri Lanka” and called for “allegations of war crimes to be investigated and verified”

In the United States, Congressman Jim McGovern, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, described the contents of the documentary as “a gruesome example of humans at their worst”.[39] He went on to say “These scenes provide much more than simply shock value, however: They also are powerful evidence of the need for an independent investigation to hold those responsible accountable for the crimes…If the Sri Lankan government is unable or unwilling to act, then the international community must respond in its place”.

This indicates that the films have achieved their purpose,   which was to catch the attention of the public all over the world, convince them that there was an evil regime in Sri Lanka,  and create a push for a war crimes probe at the UNHRC.  But these films went beyond the bounds of political documentary.   Centre for the Study of Interventionism    said that these films have brought political journalism to a new level, because the message communicated is so specifically interventionist.

The films repeatedly said that the persons directly responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity were Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother ‘Gota bear.’ ‘They were liars’, declared Miliband who came to try and stop the victory.   ‘ They are still in power ‘ moaned Snow,   The military  top  brass who handled the final victory, Prasanna de Silva, 55  division   and Shavendra Silva, 58  division are also specifically charged  with war crimes,

In this manner, these films insult and defame with impunity, a recognized sovereign state, its duly elected President, and its well trained military. Sri Lanka did nothing to squash these films. Channel Four would have taken legal advice for these films, certainly, but  if Channel Four had   tried   this  stunt with  say  a  powerful  corporate body, like a high ranking bank,  (unlikely)   Channel Four  would have been promptly taken to courts, sued for everything it had and made to close down.

Even before the film Killing fields” was shown, British broadcasting regulator Ofcom received 13 complaints about the film. These were rejected on the grounds that the documentary hadn’t been broadcast yet. Thereafter between 14 June 2011 and 4 July 2011 Ofcom received 171 complaints.  The majority of the complaints were that the documentary was misrepresentative and misleading. There were complaints of impartiality, offensiveness and misleading material. The government of Sri Lanka publically branded the video a fake and lodged a series of complaints with Ofcom.

Ofcom held an inquiry and dismissed the complaints. Ofcom concluded that “overall Channel 4 preserved due impartiality in its examination of the Sri Lankan Government’s actions”, “the audience was not materially misled” and that the images included in this programme, whilst brutal and shocking, would not have  upset its late night audience. It carried very clear warnings about the nature of the content”.

 

But criticism did not end there. Shyam Tekwani, an expert in terrorism & media at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies who has extensively covered the Sri Lankan conflict, compared the “tone and tenor” of Sri Lanka’s killing fields” to that of productions by the LTTE’s propaganda wing, the Truth Tigers. There is clearly an effort to sensationalize and shock with carefully selected and edited footage. The slant is pronounced, he said. But the attempt to provide a stomach-turning narrative is on shaky ground. The volume of testimony it uses as evidence is not enormous and most of it is derived from leading questions. The documentary invites an investigation into its own credibility and accountability to journalistic norms, concluded Tekwani.

Sri Lanka strongly objected to these films. Government of Sri Lanka stated that, the conduct of Channel Four has fallen well short of the standard and fairness expected of a responsible television channel.

Sri Lanka journalists confronted Channel Four reporters at Commonwealth Heads of State conference in Australia (2011). They said that the films distorted events, it was unethical reporting and a disgrace to journalism. The Channel Four representative  was  unshaken. When told ‘you put people in shadow’ came the bland reply, ‘they were scared.’  The Sri Lanka journalists were not named in the film, but I think it was  Rajpal Abeynayake with Shamindra Ferdinando joining him.  (”Killing fields unpunished”)

There was  some public  resistance too. Channel 4 film  crew had come to Sri Lanka during the CHOGM sessions in Colombo, (2013) but were forced to turn back on their way to Jaffna. The crew had come by train.  Protestors has sat on the railway line and not permitted them to proceed. The police had sent them back to Colombo by van.

Now let us look at the content of these films, starting with the title, Sri Lanka’s  killing fields”. Sri Lanka’s  ‘killing fields‘ were  not killing fields at all, they were the three NFZs created by the government , which the LTTE refused to recognize as NFZs. Channel Four ignored this important fact and declared, In these killing fields tens of thousands were destined to die, targeted by government fire,”

The Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term “killing fields” for the fields in Cambodia where a million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime, between 1975 to 1979. There is no comparison between Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge forces and Sri Lanka‘s well trained armed forces. Eelam War IV was a civil war between the legitimate army and a secessionist group funded and supported by the west. In equating Eelam War IV with Cambodia, Channel Four is   also implying that this war was nothing more than a baseless killing of ‘innocent Tamils’.

The Channel Four films are pro-Eelam film. One film carries a map of Eelam, starting from Kalpitiya and ending near Yala. The films ooze sympathy for Tamil separatists. They present Prabhakaran and Balasingham in heroic mode, refer to ‘hardline Sinhala nationalists’ and give a twisted interpretation of the Eelam War. This was an unequal war. The government had aims from China. The final stages of the war were very bloody,  about 40,000 died.

Civilians were herded into the NFZs, corralled into an ever decreeing area of land, and killed. ‘As the civilians fled the government followed/’ ‘Civilians fled away into what was left of the NFZ they were fired on as they went.’ The films imply that this was genocide. Tamil civilians are shown as an innocent group, facing a demonic President and a trigger happy army, firing left and right, and using heavy weapons as well. ‘The moment you stood up a bullet would hit you, said Vany Kumar. ‘This would be followed by a second bullet, so that anyone who ran to help the injured would also be hit. ‘So we only go to tend the injured half an hour later. ‘

If there really was carnage at the end of Eelam War IV, the LTTE     could have broadcast the event immediately to the world, in real time. They had the technology. Pulidevan was in touch with Frances Harrison of the BBC by satellite phone, right up to the last day of the conflict on 18 May 2009. He was also in contact with prominent South Indian on this satellite phone. On the evening of 17th May 2009 Marie Colvin, of The Sunday Times  had received a  phone call from the LTTE political head Balasingham Nadesan.

The real carnage in the Eelam war could be found in LTTE brutal attacks on the border villages where they killed with machetes, and knives. Those attacks were mass murder. It was ethnic cleansing, it was hatred. Photographs depicting the carnage, dead bodies, bloodied and spread eagled, appeared in the newspapers at the time. There were also the LTTE attacks at Anuradhapura and Arantalawa, both premeditated. Further, LTTE had tortured the Sri Lanka soldiers it took prisoner, eyes gouged out, tongues removed. Channel Four is silent about these  events.

The script writers of these films  first looked through Common Article 3 and Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions and made a list of the war crimes that could be applied to the last phase of Eelam War IV. The script writers  then structured the films around these ‘war crimes’. In the process, they taught rudimentary IHL to the watching audience.

The war crimes discussed in the films are (i) systemic killing,   (ii) arbitrary executions ,(iii) humiliation,   degradation and (iv) sexual assault of  prisoners,  (v)killing civilians, (vi) killing wounded and sick,( vii) killing those who  surrender, (ix) denial of  food and medicine to civilians not  yet killed and (x) firing ammunition at hospitals.

These war crimes were presented in a novel way. They are presented through first person reports, but  the speakers are both anonymous and invisible, like ghosts. These ghosts come out with statements which exactly match  IHL. They said that advancing troops tortured and shot civilians instead of evacuating them, that food and medicine was denied to civilians, and that PTK hospital was shelled and that there were 65 attacks on medical posts.

Channel Four caught the audience with one particular shot. A naked, blindfolded man with his hands tied behind his back is brought in, sat down on the ground and then shot. This was first broadcast on Channel 4 News on 25 August 2009. This had an immediate impact. Each succeeding film therefore elaborated on this scene, more and more naked , dead males were  shown. The final shot was of a collection of dead naked males, laid out in two neat rows, not piled up. (41.58. KF)  In all these shots, except for one or two, the private parts of these males cannot be seen.  They are angled out, as in posed photographs. One ‘dead’ person was covering his private parts with this arms. (36.40 NFZ).  In addition, the soldiers are  made to look sadistic.  One soldier kicks the head of a dead body. Others are shown dragging along naked bodies of women ‘This one has the best figure”.

Channel Four had to explain how they got this footage. Channel Four said that the video was authentic, it was  filmed by a Sri Lankan soldier on his mobile phone in January 2009. It was given to Channel 4 by members of the armed forces who were shocked at the some of the acts carried out due to orders from above. A ghost informant added that he had a collection of photographs of summary executions and killings of those who had surrendered.He claimed the photos were taken by a high ranking army officer on his personal camera.

The charge that the Channel Four films are a prize fake can be easily accepted. The films reek of bogus. Firstly, there is none of the tension and  panic that you would see in a true artillery attack. There is no indication of urgency,(  21.46 NFZ  ) or agitation.( 23.25 NFZ) in these films. Contrast this with the well known shot from the Vietnam War, of a  naked 9-year-old girl running for her life after a napalm attack in 1972.

There are no geographical markers at all. The NFZ scenes could have taken place anywhere. The endless hospital and patient scenes could have been filmed  at one go, in one place. They  looked posed, they are all are well centered and framed. The wounded are covered profusely in blood and bandages.

Certain shots are definitely posed. Father with dead child stops crying and assumes his normal  face, just before the shot ends (27.05 NFZ/ 20.45  KF). The man coming towards the corpses, at 23.25 NFZ,  is not at all agitated. A man and woman  are praying in fright, in the middle of a street, but  those around them are walking and talking normally, quite unperturbed. (16.39  KF)  A  girl  is running away from camera, but others are cycling leisurely towards the camera (10.35 NFZ) .

There is too much awareness of the camera. The ‘grieving’ man in ‘No fire Zone’  at 44.29  looks down, then looks up at the camera inquiringly and looks down again. A family is shown  departing but  the  children are  looking at camera. (22.48 NFZ) A group is huddling in a shallow trench. One person  is getting      ready to lie down, the other  is  looking back at the camera (  13.48  KF, 20.21 NFZ). Some shots   are most unconvincing. PTK hospital, after a severe artillery attack, emerges perfectly intact. (15.31 KF) A collection of vans near an artillery  strike are also  untouched and undamaged.

These films invent a nice story about Prabhakaran junior, the son of Velupillai Prabhakaran. The improbable story given in the film is that the LTTE sent the boy to surrender to the army, accompanied by five bodyguards. The army killed all five body guards, took Junior prisoner, questioned him about his father’s whereabouts, gave him a ‘bunis’ to eat, then killed him with, not one but five bullets. One would expect the military to be able to kill at close quarters with one bullet. The film included   two pretty shots of a fat contented boy. Then a photo of a dead boy.

Vany Kumar provides the female interest in the films. A British Tamil who has, improbably, bounced into the war zone at the height of the war from her safe abode in London, she appears in all the films, talking nonsense throughout. For instance she goes to assist at a hospital after an artillery strike and is surprised to see ‘so much blood ‘. She is the mouthpiece for Tamil hype and exaggeration. She says she has never seen anyone as beautiful and charming as the LTTE announcer Isaipriya. She contributes nothing to the film, except to confirm that it is a fake. (CONCLUDED)

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