Appalling Journalism:Jon Snow and Channel 4 on Sri Lanka
Posted on November 30th, 2011


Engage Sri Lanka Publication Release

In June 2011, BritainƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Channel 4 News broadcast a programme entitled “Sri

LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields”, which made a number of allegations about the last

few months of the war in Sri Lanka. (1) Jon Snow, the ChannelƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s senior news

presenter, claimed the programme was “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.” (2) Channel 4

claimed that the government was responsible for the targeted shelling of

civilians, extra-judicial executions of prisoners and the apparent rape,

sexual assault and murder of female Tamil fighters, allegations said to be

supported by “devastating new video evidence of war crimes

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” some of the

most horrific footage Channel 4 has ever broadcast”. (3) Channel 4 also

claimed that the government was responsible all told for the deaths of as

many as 40,000 civilians towards the end of the war.

Jon Snow went so far as to claim of the programme that “[o]nce or twice in a

reporting lifetime, a journalist is allowed by events to participate in a

project that can affect history. The film…is a painful and complex team

achievement…which…pieced together an account of what happened in the

closing weeks of Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s civil war.” He claimed that the government had

been responsible for a number of war crimes and the programme presented

“evidence required to convict”. There is a name for those courts in which

one person is the accuser, judge and jury: a kangaroo court. Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

programme was the journalist equivalent of such a court.

The lapse in journalistic standards apparent in Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “Killing Fields”

programme appalled fellow British journalists. The well-known British

journalist A A Gill was particularly critical:

“The channel has accumulated a large collection of samizdat amateur footage

from mobile phones and video cameras

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” mostly unattributed and

uncorroborated. It mixes this footage with comment from unnamed sources with

distorted voices and shadowed faces. And human rights lawyers. It was

brutal, it was shocking, but it wasnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t journalism. Not a second of this has

been shot by Channel 4; none of the eyewitness accounts comes from

journalists. SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s commentary was intemperate and partisan, and it was all

held together by assumptions. Channel 4 News has drifted from providing news

broadcasts into being an outlet for nodding spokespeople and assorted NGOs

and environmental pressure groups, or anyone who can provide interesting or

sensational film. It follows the old American news adage, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”If it bleeds, it


Gill makes the very valid point that the people let down most by this

programme are “the victims of this brutal war, who deserve a more measured

professionalism and due diligence”. He concluded:

“It really was the most astonishing and misjudged editorial decision from a

news broadcaster that has grown into the habit of poor judgment on almost

everything…This documentary was a low point in a continuing slump.” (4)

SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claims about “forensic” evidence ring very hollow. As this study will

show, the reality is that “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields” was one of the worst

examples of knee-jerk tabloid journalism to be screened on British

television. It was an appalling lapse in journalistic standards and while

Jon Snow may wish to believe it provides “evidence required to convict”,

Snow and Channel 4 should stick to tabloid journalism because they clearly

make very poor lawyers. It might suffice for a back-slapping journalistic

kangaroo court, but, in any court of law, the case presented by Channel 4,

deeply questionable where not simply untrue, would be thrown out within a

matter of minutes. SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s main witness, presented as independent, was

revealed to have been a LTTE member during the period in question. The basis

of any “evidence” is simple facts: Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s programme presents very few

of them. Key figures presented by Channel 4 regarding the numbers of

casualties, for example, have margins of error of several hundred percent.

It is a matter of record that the LTTE had a particularly active propaganda

machine, established within the Tamil diaspora. A western intelligence

service has noted that “[t]he LTTE international propaganda war is conducted

at an extremely sophisticated level”.(5) It appears that Channel 4 accepted

questionable material at face value without even the most basic of fact


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” elementary checks that a cub reporter would have done. It used

unnamed and unidentifiable “witnesses” presented to them by this propaganda

machine; it similarly accepted video and mobile phone film footage and LTTE


This critique of Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s appalling journalism will draw on the

observations of Gordon Weiss, a former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, and author

of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil TigersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

, a partisan view of the last few months of the war. (6) Weiss is a noted

critic of the government. SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s assertions are based in large part on ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

CageƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, and indeed Weiss is interviewed extensively in the programme, making

eight separate appearances.

The background to conflict

The Sri Lankan Civil War was a 26-year-long conflict fought between the

government of Sri Lanka and the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE,

also known as the “Tamil Tigers”), from 1983 until the defeat of the LTTE in

May 2009. (7) The LTTE was a militant organisation, led by Velupillai

Prabakharan, which sought to establish an independent Tamil state, “Tamil

Eelam”, in the north and the east of the island, separate from Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

Sinhalese majority After several failed rounds of peace talks and the

unsuccessful and bloody deployment of an Indian peace keeping force from

1987 to 1990, an internationally-mediated ceasefire agreement was signed in

2002. Hostilities flared up somewhat in late 2005. The then Prime Minister

Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as President of Sri Lanka in November 2005.

Shortly afterwards, the LTTE withdrew from the Geneva and Oslo peace talks

indefinitely. In April 2006, the LTTE tried to assassinate the commander of

the Sri Lankan army. The LTTE then seized the Mavil Oya reservoir in the

east of the country. Weiss notes that this was perhaps the final straw: “In

July 2006, the Tigers seized the sluice gate of a reservoir in eastern Sri

Lanka, cutting water to 15,000 villagers and thousands of hectares of rice

paddy…the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Final WarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢…had begun.”(8) The army reasserted control and it

was clear that the new Sri Lankan government decided that it would bring the

LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s hold on parts of Sri Lanka to an end and to do that the government

had to reoccupy the territory controlled by the organisation.

Government action drove the LTTE out of the entire eastern province of Sri

Lanka with remarkably few civilian casualties, and in 2007 the government

launched an offensive in the north of the country. The government formally

announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement in early January 2008,

claiming the LTTE had violated the agreement over 10,000 times. (9)

Government forces gradually re-established control of the rest of

LTTE-controlled areas, including their de-facto capital Kilinochchi and the

main LTTE military base at Mullaitivu, in the Vanni region. (10) From late

2008 onwards, as their area of control shrank, the LTTE forced 300,000 Tamil

civilians to accompany their fighters as human shields. By 25 April 2009,

the area held by the LTTE, a shrinking pocket of land on the north-east

coastline, was reduced to 10 square kilometres in size. The government

declared several “No-fire Zones” to protect civilians. These zones were

nevertheless caught up in the relentless fighting between government forces

and the LTTE. A large number of civilians were killed or injured in

crossfire between the combatants. The LTTE leader and virtually all of the

organisationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s remaining leadership died in the last few days of the

fighting, something perhaps unsurprising given the culture of suicide within

the LTTE. (11) The LTTE admitted defeat on 17 May and when the conflict

ended, the Sri Lankan government cited it as the only modern instance of an

unambiguous defeat of terrorism. Following the military defeat of the LTTE,

the previously pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance dropped its demand for an

independent Tamil state in favour of a federal solution.

Who were the LTTE?

Gordon Weiss presents observers with a stark picture of the LTTE and its

“record of appalling violence”. (12) He records that the LTTE chief gave

orders “to bomb buses full of women and children…murder monks and kill

prisoners” (13), and that “[t]hey hacked, bludgeoned, shot, burned and

hanged civilians in a long series of massacres…Children were slaughtered

alongside the elderly in dozens of small-scale incidents.” (14) The LTTE

“planted bombs on trains, aircraft and buses…In 1987, a car bomb exploded

in ColumboƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Pettah, killing 113 civilians. In 1996, four briefcase bombs

exploded simultaneously on a train, killing sixty-four passengers and

wounding more than 400 others. In 2006, a roadside blast killed sixty

civilians on a bus in Kebithigollewa.” (15) Weiss also points out that

between 1983 and May 2009: “there were around 200 individual Tiger attacks

on civilian targets, in which between 3,700 and 4,100 civilians were

killed.” (16) Weiss also notes that “This figure does not include the

number of Tamils allegedly killed by the Tigers in the areas they

controlled, nor the many hundreds of prisoners thought to have been killed

in Tamil Tiger gulags. The University Teachers for Human Rights estimates

that the latter figure is as high as 7,000.” (17) Weiss also confirms that

the LTTE “systematised the use of suicide bombers…and child soldiers.”

(18) In addition to killing and injuring Sri Lankan politicians from all

ethnic communities, the LTTE also murdered the former Indian prime minister

Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The LTTE also engaged in a murderous and systematic

policy of ethnic cleansing, seeking to depopulate Sinhalese and Muslim areas

in the north and east of the country. This just skims the surface of the

LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s involvement in terrorism. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ noted that “The Tigers were

as vicious and totalitarian a bunch of thugs as ever adopted terrorism as a

national-liberation strategy.” (19) Weiss observed that: “Undoubtedly, the

world is a better place without the Tamil Tigers.” (20)

Given the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s unambiguous use of terrorism, thirty-two countries listed

it as a terrorist organisation. The United States designated the LTTE as a

Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997: it was named as a “Specially

Designated Global Terrorist movement” on 2 November 2001. The European Union

listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation on 17 May 2006. In 2006, the

United Kingdom listed the LTTE as a proscribed terrorist group under the

Terrorism Act 2000. Canada has since 2006 listed the movement as a terrorist

group, and does not grant residency to LTTE members on the grounds that they

have participated in crimes against humanity. India listed the LTTE as a

terrorist organisation in 1992.

Interestingly, not once did Snow refer to the LTTE as a terrorist

organisation or that it was listed as one. He preferred the term “army”. It

is also worth pointing out that despite a statutory obligation to be

balanced and fair, in Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s 50 minute-long programme LTTE human rights

abuses, of which were was ample evidence during the events supposedly being

reported upon, received 49 seconds of air time.

It should also be mentioned that “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields”, Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

choice of title for the programme, was in and of itself questionable. (21)

The “killing fields” conjures up imagery of the Cambodia genocide and all

that that implies. It is a particularly skewed comparison for several

reasons. Given that the programmeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s focus is almost exclusively on the Sri

Lankan government, the implication quite simply is that the government is

party to genocidal mass murder. Either Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s researchers have a poor

grip on history or sought to be deliberately gratuitous in their choice of

title. Any student of the political history of that part of Asia will know

that the title far more aptly applies to the LTTE. (22) The Khmer Rouge was

an ultra left-wing insurgency in Cambodia in the 1970s: the LTTE has been

seen as embracing a far-left ideology, with links to North Korea. (23) Both

groups were documented as having killed thousands of civilians in acts of

terrorism. Both the LTTE and Khmer Rouge have driven civilian populations

out of urban areas under their control for strategic or ideological reasons:

both murdered any civilians trying to escape from their areas. The LTTE

shares the Khmer RougeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s reputation for ruthlessness and brutality. Both

groups ruthlessly murdered any moderate political rivals. Both groups used

child soldiers extensively. Both were led by dictatorial personalities. The

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”New York TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ was considerably more objective than Channel 4 when in an

article headlined “A Sri Lankan Evokes Pol Pot; AsiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Latest Master of

Terror”, the newspaper noted that the LTTE leader Prabakharan had “shown a

bloodthirstiness in dealing with opponents that has been compared with some

of the cruelest figures in recent Asian history, including Pol Pot of

Cambodia”. (24)

Facts and the last weeks of the Sri Lankan civil war

The virtual impossibility of establishing what happened during the last few

weeks of the war was made clear by Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press

Columbo bureau chief from 2007-2009. He reported from Sri Lanka during the

final few months of the war. In February 2009 he gave a very clear picture

of the insurmountable difficulties of reporting what was happening during

this period: “This is a very difficult story to cover as a journalist. The

war zone is a black hole…We canƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t get up there, and the information is so

scattered that weƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢re getting…We have absolutely no idea.” (25) Gordon

Weiss confirms this reality: “According to international journalists, Sri

Lanka was notorious as one of the toughest wars on which to report.” (26) He

cited a veteran foreign reporter as stating that verifiable information was

“as rare as henƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s teeth”.(27) Weiss also noted “the absence of the

independent media” in the area concerned. (28)

In addition to the virtually insurmountable difficulties in ascertaining

simple facts, it is also clear that the claims of what happened in the last

few weeks were permeated then as now with ruthless propaganda,

disinformation and deception. Weiss has placed on record that the LTTE ran

“[a]n efficient propaganda and political operation…in dozens of countries

amongst the million-strong Tamil diaspora”. (29) This external LTTE and

pro-LTTE propaganda machine has continued to exist after the total defeat of

the organisation inside Sri Lanka in May 2011.

It is against this backdrop that two years after the end of the war that

Channel 4 produced “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields”, claiming to have

established the absolute truth of what had happened.

Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s central witness: Vany Kumar

Simply put, the biggest difficulty in trying to ascertain what really

happened in the last few months of the conflict was the absence of

independent witnesses. Where Channel 4 made their biggest professional

transgression was in their choice of their “independent witness”

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Vany

Kumar. Interestingly, their witness goes by at least four other names, Dr

Tamilvani, Damilvany Kumar and Damilvany Gananakumar. Vany Kumar had

previously appeared in a September 2009 Channel 4 News interview, on that

occasion she was introduced by Channel 4 as Damilvany Gnanakumar.

At the end of the September 2009 interview Channel 4 stated that “We are

unable to vouch for the independence of her testimony.” (30) Nevertheless,

they then gave Vany Kumar a central role in their programme without any such

disclaimer. At the same time the questions about Ms Kumar have not


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” they have increased. She appears in the programme on ten separate

occasions. Introduced now as “Vany Kumar”, she was described by Jon Snow as

a “young English Tamil woman who had left London to spend 6 months with

relatives in Sri Lanka.” She was said to have been “a biomedical technician”

in England who “found herself caught up with tens of thousands of displaced

Tamil civilians on the exodus eastwards”.

Kumar was born in Sri Lanka in 1984 and her family moved to Britain in 1994.

The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ states that she returned to Sri Lanka for the first time

since then on 28 February 2009. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ noted that on arrival “she

headed for Vanni, the Tamil heartland”. Channel 4 claimed she went to visit

her family; the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ contradicts this. It stated that she claimed he

went to “stay with a relative she calls her brother” .(31) The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

points out that this was not actually her brother, who together with her

sisters was back in England. Despite Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claim that she had gone to

be with family she had not disclosed her whereabouts to even her close

relatives. Her family admitted that, until they saw her on a Tamil

television programme working in a hospital in May 2009, “We had not heard

anything from her until then, we didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t know whether she was still alive,

whether something had happened to her.” If she had gone to Sri Lanka to

visit family, as claimed by Jon Snow, then surely she or the relatives she

was allegedly visiting would have been in touch with her family in England.

As we will subsequently see, when she did make telephone calls to Britain,

it was not to her family but to the British media calling for international


KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s secretive behaviour was soon explained. It subsequently emerged that

Kumar had been an active member of the London Branch of the Tamil Youth

Organization, an organisation closely associated with the LTTE. When she

reached Vanni, she made contact with the LTTE. She received military

training under the leadership of Durga, the female leader of LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Soydyia

Regiment. After training she spent time as a translator and coordinating

LTTE foreign media and propaganda work from the Vanni. She was then placed

as an assistant with Dr Weerakathipillai Shanmugarajah, a medical doctor at

the Jaffna Teaching hospital and Mullaitivu district hospital, during the

last stages of fighting in Vanni, where she continued to be tasked with

propaganda work. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ reveals that Kumar provided “a running

commentary to the outside world from behind the lines”.(32)

KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s independence is central to her credibility as a witness. Her loyalty

to the LTTE is very clear. For example, she categorically denied seeing any

LTTE abuse of the civilians under their control. Gordon Weiss describes LTTE

behaviour in the same, shrinking area in which Kumar was also present:

“Disturbingly, it became increasingly clear from reports emerging from the

combat area that the Tamil Tigers were…exercising a brand of ruthless

terror on their own people that defies imagination. As the combat area

shrank and their desperation increased, their brutality increased

exponentially. They would shoot, execute and beat to death many hundreds of

people, ensure the deaths of thousands of teenagers by press-ganging them

into the front lines, and kill those children and their parents who

resisted.” (33)

Weiss notes that the LTTE shelled their own civilians and hospitals. (34) He

also notes that the LTTE “shot many hundreds who tried to cross to the

safety of government lines”. (35) In one instance alone, University Teachers

for Human Rights reported that on 14 May, the LTTE killed 500 civilians near

a palmyra palm nursery near Nanthikadal Lagoon as they tried to cross to the

other side or to Vattuvakkal to the south. (36) There were dozens of other

examples. The evidence of these LTTE atrocities, in the shape of corpses,

would have been staring Vany Kumar in the face. Loyal to the end to the

LTTE, Kumar states she saw none of this: “[The LTTE] donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t want to kill

their own people, they were fighting for them, they worked so hard to save

their people”. Unsurprisingly, she also denied any LTTE shelling of

civilians. She has categorically and repeatedly denied that the LTTE had

used civilians as human shields. (37) She has stated: “I donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t believe this

is the case.” Against all evidence to the contrary by every reputable human

rights organisation and several governments Kumar insisted that there were

no human shields: “[p]eople chose to stay…Nobody wanted to run away. It

wasnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t like the LTTE kept them. The people chose to stay.” (38) Kumar has

also gone on record to claim that “the international community has

intentionally let the Tamil civilians die and they continue to make them

suffer.” (39) Unsurprisingly, Kumar also claims that in the last five days

about 20,000 people died in the zone. (40)

This then was the impartial witness presented by Channel 4.

KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s obvious allegiance to the LTTE aside, her testimony is itself simply

unreliable. Her story about the final weeks changed in crucial respects. In

the Channel 4 programme she dramatically claimed to have watched a

six-year-old boy have his leg and arm amputated without anaesthetics. In an

earlier Guardian article, however, she stated that when the anaesthetics ran

short, they diluted them with distilled water. (41) In any instance, Dr

Shanmugarajah, the Tamil doctor she claimed had carried out the

anaesthetics-free amputation, said that Kumar had lied: “We did not conduct

any sort of surgery without giving anaesthesias. No such thing happened.

Anaesthesia was used for over 95% of the surgeries that were conducted while

the rest were minor surgeries. If amputation was necessary we indeed used

anaesthesias…If we hadnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t used anaesthesias for major surgeries, people

could have died.” (42) Her testimony changes in another key claim. In the

Channel 4 programme, Kumar claims to have watched staff at the hospital

having to filter blood coming out of the patients through a cloth before

feeding it back into their veins. In the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ article referred to

above, however, she claimed to have done this herself. (43)

Having apparently been ignorant of Vany KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s clear LTTE links and

military training, Channel 4 was also seemingly unaware that another of

their alleged “civilians”, Issipriya, said to have been a Tamil TV presenter

on a LTTE station, was a fully-trained LTTE cadre. For a “non-combatant”

there are a surprising number of pictures of her in military uniform. (44)

What was said to have been her dead body was then shown later in the

programme with the obvious inference that government forces may have killed

a civilian.

One difficulty for Channel 4, however, is that the female body said by

Channel 4 News in “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields”, in June 2011 at minute 38:30

of the programme, to be that of Issipriya is seemingly not the same body

also claimed by Channel 4 to be that of Issipriya on its news item of 30

November 2010.(45) Leaving the evidentiary quandary regarding identification

aside, and despite the inference in the 2011 programme that she was executed

by government forces, Channel 4 had a different spin on events in its 2010

news item, noting that “it is unclear how she died”. Keen to preserve the

sensationalist value of Issipriya being a non-combatant, in its 2010 news

item Channel 4 once again reported at face value claims by an unidentified

LTTE “colleague” of Issipriya that because of a “heart” condition “[s]he

never carried a gun and her physical condition did not permit her to go to

the battlefield.” Channel 4 overlooked the obvious. Even if that

questionable and self-serving assertion was true, the battlefield quite

simply came to her and there is no doubt that she would have been expected

to fight. The LTTE were desperately throwing every possible fighter into the

battles against government forces in the final days in May 2009. They were

forcibly conscripting children and sending them into combat with just a few

hoursƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ military training. A ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ article made it very clear that all

trained LTTE cadres were thrown into the fighting. It quoted a female LTTE

member: “Many cadres had been killed or injured…so the administration

staff were sent to the front line.” (46) The vast majority of committed LTTE


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” of which Issipriya was a senior member ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” either died fighting or

killed themselves with their cyanide tablets, bullets or grenades.(47)

The UN office demonstration

The programme got off to a bad start. In September 2008, as its offensive

progressed, the government issued a statement noting that they were “unable

to guarantee the safety” of UN staff inside LTTE-controlled territory. (48)

The UN decided to evacuate its staff from Kilinochchi. Channel 4 reported

that “crowds of frightened Tamil civilians besieged the UN base” on 15

September 2008. The reality is that this demonstration was orchestrated by

the LTTE. Even Weiss admits that it was “spurred on by the Tiger

authorities”. (49) Thangarasa, the head of the Kilinochchi Laundrymen

Association, stated that they were told to attend the demonstration: “All

the associations were run by the LTTE and we had to do whatever we were

instructed by the LTTE. If we do not obey we will have to stop doing our

business.” Sinnathurai, the head of the BarbersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ Association, stated that

when LTTE officials said come to a protest “we have to do so, whether we

like it or not”.(50)

Had they reported on a Gaddafi government-orchestrated demonstration in

Libya, Channel 4 News

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and most if not all other western media channels ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”

would have added a “health warning” that the demonstration had been

government organised. In this case Channel 4 reported the demonstration as

spontaneous. It was either unaware of the fact that it was stage-managed or

it chose not to mention it. It was a micro example of Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s systemic

indifference to detail that was to irretrievably flaw the rest of the


The displacement of Tamil civilians

It is clear that stage-managed demonstrations were not the only thing

Channel 4 failed to notice. The Channel 4 programme is set against the story

of the 300,000 Tamil civilians who found themselves in the crossfire between

government and LTTE forces, all within a gradually decreasing area of

north-east Sri Lanka, ultimately no bigger than New YorkƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s central park. How

did they get there in the first place? Human Rights Watch provides an

unambiguous answer:

“Retreating from Sri Lankan Army (SLA) advances, the LTTE has forcibly taken

along all civilians under its control. As the territory held by the LTTE has


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚now a short, narrow strip on the northeast coast of the islandƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the

civilian population has been dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller

space. In violation of the laws of war, the LTTE has refused to allow

civilians to flee the fighting, repeatedly fired on those trying to reach

government held territory, and deployed forces near densely populated areas.

The civilians who remain under LTTE control, including children, are subject

to forced recruitment into LTTE forces and hazardous forced labor on the


Channel 4 presents a different and somewhat more self-serving explanation.

Jon Snow claims, for example, that hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians

were instead “driven from their homes by government forces who appeared to

see all Tamil civilians as virtually indistinguishable from the fighters of

the Tamil Tigers”. Both assertions are untrue. Firstly, Human Rights Watch

makes clear that it was the LTTE that deliberately forced the displacement.

Secondly, Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own witness, Gordon Weiss, contradicts the Channel 4

narrative regarding the armyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s deliberate lumping together of fighters and

civilians, noting that even when Sri Lankan soldiers were engaged in

close-combat fighting they were “trying to distinguish Tiger fighters from

civilians…Thousands of people streamed across the lagoon to the safety of

army lines as soldiers urged them on. Tiger cadres fired at both soldiers

and civilians.” (52) Snow then further claims that following the fall of

Kilinochchi “tens of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians” began an

“exodus eastwards. They had nowhere to go, they just knew they had to

leave.” Both Vany Kumar and Snow seem to be in denial regarding the actions

and behaviour of the LTTE. Regarding the massive forced displacement of

civilians that is at the heart of the tragedies that would subsequently

unfold, Snow is either amazingly naive or simply disingenuous, in any

instance deeply unprofessional.

Even if Jon Snow or Channel 4 News somehow managed to miss or chose to

ignore the enforced displacement of Tamil civilians, better journalists and

human rights groups did not. They reported that 300,000 civilians within the

LTTE-controlled area had been forced to accompany the LTTE in its retreat to

the coast. On 28 January 2009, for example, Human Rights Watch reported that

“[t]he LTTE has long prevented civilians under its control from fleeing to

government-held areas. As the LTTE…retreated into its stronghold in the

northern Vanni area since the start of a Sri Lankan army offensive in

October 2008, the rebel group…forced civilians deeper into territory they

control…Altogether, an estimated 250,000 civilians are now trapped in the

small part of Mullaittivu district that remains under LTTE control.” (53)

Amnesty International also confirmed that “As the Tigers have lost

territory, they have forced thousands of Tamil civilians to move with them.”

(54) In February 2009, the BBC noted that UN “says there are credible

reports to suggest that the Tamil Tigers are preventing civilians from

leaving and a number of those trying to get away are being shot at and in

some cases killed.” (55) In April, the British and French governments noted

that “[i]t is clear that the LTTE…have been forcefully preventing

civilians from leaving the conflict area and we deplore their determination

to use civilians as a human shield.” (56) Later that month, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

reported that “at least 60,000 more [civilians] (and perhaps twice that

number) remain as hostages of the Tigers”. (57) In early May, Amnesty

International stated: “At this point, an estimated 50,000 civilians are

still being held as human shields by the Tigers in a small coastal strip in

northeastern Sri Lanka, surrounded by the Sri Lankan army on three sides.”

(58) Human Rights Watch made it clear at the time that “LTTE forces are

increasingly deployed near civilians in violation of the laws of war…it is

considered to be ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”human shielding,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ which is a war crime.” (59)

A central claim by Channel 4 was shown to be untrue. The fact is that it was

the LTTE

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and not the army ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that forced hundreds of thousands of Tamil

civilians from their homes. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and the BBC confirmed as much. Weiss provides the reason for this

forced displacement, something which is central to the events in the last

few weeks of the conflict:

“[T]he presence of civilians served multiple purposes for the Tiger command.

Primarily a civilian population was a buffer against an all-out assault by

the army. Too many pictures of dead children transmitted around the world

would attract outrage, and might limit the political resolve of the

government’s coalition and weaken its support from foreign governments.”


Had Channel 4 News done anything more than superficial research into the

conflict, or were even interested, they would have realised that this was

not the first time the LTTE had forced a civilian population to accompany

them as the organisation retreated in the face of an army offensive. Weiss

records that: “In April 1996, a massive army offensive forced the Tamil

Tigers to withdraw from Jaffna. They retreated into the jungle and villages

of the Vanni to the south, along with between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians

who in just a few hours were intimidated into leaving their houses, jobs and

villages.” (61) Channel 4 appears to have ignored the clear fact that the

LTTE were party to a pattern of intimidation and forced displacement. It

would have contradicted their narrative.

Weiss also documented the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s attitude towards Tamil civilians: “The

safety of civilians always came a distant second to their political and

military objectives.” (62)

The number of people displaced

Far from providing definitive, factual, forensic “evidence”, the Channel 4

programme is surprisingly erratic in providing figures for the number of

displaced civilians

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” figures that are crucial given the subsequent claims

made in the programme. Jon Snow first claims that between 300,000-400,000

civilians were involved. He then states that “By the end of January 2009,

the remaining Tamil Tigers and as many as 400,000 civilians were now trapped

by Sri Lankan government forces.” The 400,000 figure is cited a second time.

Channel 4 was itself party therefore to a 25 percent margin of error in its

own figures. In December 2008, Human Rights Watch put the number of

civilians in the Vanni at “between 230,000 and 300,000 civilians”. (63) At

the end of January 2009, the BBC reported that “[t]here are thought to be

about 250,000 civilians in the area in which the rebels are still

operating.” (64) ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”TimeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ reported in early February that there were as many

as 250,000 civilians in the Vanni. (65) In February 2009, Human Rights Watch

put the number of civilians at “more than 200,000”. (66) In February 2009

the UN World Food Program estimated the number to be 250,000. (67) In March,

the US government put the number of civilians at 120,000-150,000. (68) The

Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies put the number at between 75,000 and

150,000. The UN Resident Coordinator estimated the number to be between

120,000 and 180,000. Along with the BBC and others, the government initially

thought there were fewer civilians in the area than was the case: it

accepted that about 300,000 civilians were being held by the LTTE. (69)

Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s cavalier approach to facts and figures regarding the number of

people displaced by the LTTE manifested itself at all levels. Having claimed

that between 300,000-400,000 civilians were initially displaced, it then

reduced this figure to a quarter of a million internally displaced people at

the end of the war. This was again inaccurate. Amnesty International stated,

for example, that there were 300,000 IDPs following the conflict. (70) The

number of officially registered displaced civilians at the end of the crisis

was 294,000. (71) In this instance, Channel 4 was only 50,000 people out in

their estimate.

WeissƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s estimates also change significantly. In January 2009, Weiss claims

that there were 330,000 civilians in the zone. (72) One month later it

changes to a claim that “[a]bout 300,000 civilians, plus the Tamil Tiger

forces, were trapped.” (73) He does admit however that “Despite satellite

pictures…the true numbers of people trapped inside the Cage remained

uncertain. For this reason alone, nobody would ever know how many were

killed in the attempt to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”rescueƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ them.” (74) Given that Weiss subsequently

claims in “The Cage” that 10,000

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” 40,000 of the 300,000 civilians died, it

is difficult to balance this figure with the fact that 294,000 of these

civilians were subsequently registered as IDPs at the end of the crisis.

Weiss confirms that the LTTE deliberately inflated its claims regarding how

many civilians were inside the area it controlled: “In 2008, Tamil Tiger

functionaries claimed that 450,000 people were inside the Vanni. A higher

population figure strengthened the Tamil claim on the international

political stage and amongst the Tamil diaspora to a Tamil homeland. It also

meant that they could claim greater benefits from the Sri Lankan government,

which had continued to exercise its writ over Tiger-controlled territory by

supplying a full range of government health and education services.” (75)

Perhaps needless to say, Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s figure more closely follows that of the


Channel 4 rightly accuses the Sri Lankan government of initially

underestimating the number of displaced civilians; they were not the only

ones, most humanitarian agencies and several other governments also

underestimated the figures. It is ironic, however, for Channel 4 then to

seemingly deliberately inflate the initial number of displaced civilians,

presumably to imply a larger and more convenient civilian death toll.

Shelling within the No-Fire Zones

Despite the governmentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s declaration of “no-fire zones” for the protection

of civilians, the fighting spilled over into these areas. Weiss, for

example, notes that “the Tamil Tigers were placing mobile artillery pieces

in areas now inundated with tens of thousands of people.” (76) In 2007 the

LTTE was believed to have had a wide range of artillery and mortars,

including nine 152mm long-range guns, nine 130mm artillery pieces,

twenty-two 122mm artillery guns, eighty 120mm mortars and many 81mm and 60mm

mortars. The LTTE also used multi-barrel rocket launchers noted for their

inaccuracy. (77) In addition to this ordinance, the movement also had

hundreds of rocket propelled grenade RPG-7 launchers. The BBC reported that

“[v]ideo evidence published by ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ suggests that the Tamil Tigers

established mortar positions and military encampments within camps for

displaced people, which were then shelled by the military.” (78) Jacques de

Maio, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Head of Operations for

South Asia, said to US officials that the LTTE “had tried to keep civilians

in the middle of a permanent state of violence. It saw the civilian

population as a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”protective assetƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and kept its fighters embedded amongst

them. De Maio said that the LTTE commandersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ objective was to keep the

distinction between civilian and military assets blurred.” (79)

The Channel 4 programme focused particularly on the shelling of hospitals

and other medical points within no-fire zones. The only indisputable facts

regarding these attacks is that some hospitals were shelled and that

civilians were killed or injured as a result. Weiss claims that there were

65 recorded attacks on hospitals and clinics

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” ranging from large hospitals

to small mobile makeshift shelters repeatedly established by the Tamil

government doctors as lines moved. (80) Dr Shanmugarajah, the Tamil doctor

cited in the Channel 4 programme and present throughout the crisis, states

that WeissƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claim of 65 attacks on hospitals was “an absurd lie”. (81)

Weiss also pointed out an obvious and pivotal fact, which was how difficult

it was to tell where the shelling was coming from: “Many civilians have been

killed or injured. Our staff members witnessed the death of civilians. But

we cannot determine where the fire came from.” (82) In late January,

referring to an attack which killed and injured dozens of civilians in side

a no-fire zone, Gordon Weiss noted: “We donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t know where the firing came

from.” (83) The University Teachers for Human Rights, described by Weiss as

a “highly regarded” and “independent” organisation (84), also placed on

record that in the last few months “the shelling of civilians continued, but

it became increasingly difficult to determine who was responsible.” (85)

Additionally, while Channel 4 makes a lot of satellite image surveillance of

the conflict area, claiming that as a result the UN and other powers “knew a

great deal about what went on in the no-fire zone”, their researchers

presumably would have seen the 2009 US government report on the crisis which

noted that “[n]umerous commercial imagery-based reports issued by UN

agencies and non-governmental organizations identified evidence of shelling

in the NFZ. U.S. government sources are unable to attribute the reported

damage to either the Government of Sri Lanka or LTTE forces.” (86) That is

to say that the United States government, with all the immense satellite and

other technological surveillance facilities at its disposal, was unable to

ascertain who was responsible for any shelling. In summary, therefore, the

UN, the US government, UTHR and satellite surveillance was unable to

ascertain whom was shelling whom in the “no-fire zones”. This fact is

conveniently ignored by Channel 4 who apparently believe that they are in a

better position to judge than the very people on the ground

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and in the


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” at the time.

It is a matter of fact that the LTTE quite literally used the Tamil

civilians as a human shield. They deliberately fired from civilian

concentrations, especially within the “no-fire zones”. The University

Teachers for Human Rights documents that witnesses noted that the LTTE was

“shelling from among the civilians at advancing troops” and that this

provoked a response from the army, resulting in civilian deaths.” They also

noted that “[t]he LTTE did fire its mortars from isolated positions

among…civilians.” (87) Witness testimony recorded by UTHR shows that the

“no-fire zones” were abused by the LTTE. The group cited a civilianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

perspective on the zones: “Experience had taught him to be cautious. He had

decided that the safe zones were the least safe as the LTTE went about in

its gun mounted vehicles firing at the Army with no thought of the

civilians.” (88) LTTE behaviour was documented by UTHR:

“The LTTE regularly moved its gun-mounted vehicles through the NFZ,

sometimes firing at the army line and quickly reversing them eastwards next

to civilian dwellings. A woman told us that when that happened, there was

nothing they could do except to sit it out keeping their fingers

crossed…The LTTE had established some mortar positions in the NFZ in a

circle-shaped space from which the civilians were kept away. When the LTTE

fired and the Army fired back, the shells fell close, but according to those

present, hardly ever harmed the LTTE who jumped into their bunkers in good

time. It was almost wholly civilians that suffered.”

UTHR noted that “[t]he popular belief is that many civilians got killed and

others maimed as a result of LTTE men ducking into a place having a group of

civilian tents after some incident or provocation, leaving the people

huddled together in a state of extreme anxiety.” (89)

Channel 4 News presented what was in effect an LTTE viewpoint that it was

Sri Lankan forces that deliberately shelled civilians and medical points in

and around the “no-fire zones”

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” albeit for no discernible reason. The

Channel 4 programme spends quite some time describing the shelling of

medical points, including the Puthukudiyirippu (PTK) hospital, asserting,

for example, variously that “government shelling of the hospital continued”

and “the hospital was targeted”. They produced several disguised and

unidentified “witnesses” to that effect. Vany Kumar also made several

claims, stating for example, that government shelling “completely destroyed”

a hospital and that it was “deliberate” and “targeted”. She alleged repeated

shelling of hospitals. The International Committee of the Red Cross would

visit medical locations and pass on GPS coordinates to both sides in order

to prevent accidental attacks on medical points. Kumar alleged that the

government was using the ICRC coordinates for hospitals to target the

buildings and claimed that the Tamil doctors asked the ICRC not to pass on

the coordinates. One of the doctors, Dr Shanmugarajah, categorically denied

KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s GPS claims. He said that he was responsible for coordinating with

the ICRC for the Vallipuram, Mullivaikkal West, Mullivaikkal East and

Vellamullivaikkal hospitals and not a single doctor in charge in those

hospitals made any such request. (90) Channel 4 News also alleged that the

government would fire one shell and then wait ten minutes to fire another

one in order to kill or injure anyone aiding those hit by the first shell.

Snow claimed that “To terrified civilians it seemed government forces were

determined to maximise casualties.” The British newspaper ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The IndependentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

noted, however, that: “Nothing you saw in the first half of the programme

could conclusively prove [the GPS] charge, or confirm the belief that the

Sri Lankans would pause after one shell and then fire another to kill the

rescuers.” (91)

SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claim that government forces seemed “determined to maximise

casualties” is repeatedly contradicted by Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own witness. Gordon

Weiss made the simple observation that “[f]or the SLA, it made no tactical

sense to kill civilians.” (92) He noted that “for thirty-seven months [the

army] had worked its way meticulously across the territory controlled by the

Tigers, at great cost to young Sinhalese soldiers.” (93) That is to say they

had been deliberately trying to avoid civilian casualties

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” something they

had managed during the offensive in eastern Sri Lanka, which had preceded

the final northern phase. Weiss describes the behaviour of the Sri Lankan

army towards the end of the Vanni operation:

“58th Division troops overran 20,000 civilians crouching in bunkers inside

the No Fire Zone. Using loudspeakers as they inched forward through the

jungles and across the rice paddy fields, troops summoned people towards

their lines, despite the ferocious fighting and shelling all around…On the

whole…the vast majority of people who escaped seem to have been received

with relative restraint and care by the front-line SLA troops, who quickly

passed them up the line for tea, rice and first aid.” (94)

Weiss records that “the army probed the Tiger defences, and calculated how

to separate civilians from cadres.” That is to say to differentiate who, as

LTTE fighters, were legitimate targets, and who as civilians were not. And

he notes further that in the last few days “[c]ommandos were fighting their

way through a tent city, hurling grenades, trying to distinguish Tiger

fighters from civilians…Thousands of people streamed across the lagoon to

the safety of army lines as soldiers urged them on. Tiger cadres fired at

both soldiers and civilians.” (95) Weiss observed:

“It remains a credit to many of the front-line SLA soldiers that, despite

odd cruel exceptions, they so often seem to have made the effort to draw

civilians out from the morass of fighting ahead of them in an attempt to

save lives. Soldiers yelled out to civilians, left gaps in their lines while

they waved white flags to attract people forward and bodily plucked the

wounded from foxholes and bunkers. Troops bravely waded into the lagoon

under fire to rescue wounded people threading their way out of the

battlefield or to help parents with their children, and gave their rations

to civilians as they lay in fields, exhausted in their first moments of

safety after years of living under the roar and threat of gunfire.” (96)

Weiss also noted:

“There were many acts of mercy that emerged from the inferno of civil war.

The bedraggled columns of civilians were massed and counted, fed as well as

possible and then transported by truck and bus to waiting internment camps

in Vavuniya. Front-line soldiers gave their own rations to the terrified

civilians.” (97)

Weiss provides an additional description of the treatment of civilians as

they encountered government forces: “The front-line soldiers who received

the first civilians as they escaped to government lines, those who guarded

them in the camps and the civilian and military doctors who provided vital

treatment distinguished themselves most commonly through their mercy and

care.” (98) This attitude appeared to be across the services. It is also

worth mentioning that the International Committee of the Red Cross commended

the Sri Lankan navy for its role in the medical evacuations by sea of sick

and injured civilians during the Vanni operation. The ICRC noted that the

navy personnel “displayed a strict discipline and respect of rules of

engagement and at the same time a very respectful and kind attitude to help

those in need. In that regard in addition to all others who contributed to

this medical evacuation, we wish to express our special thanks to the

Director General for Operations, at the Navy HQ, the Officiating Commander

Eastern Naval Command, in Trincomalee, and to the Deputy Area Commander

North, in Jaffna. They spent many sleepless hours coordinating the operation

and played a crucial role to make it a success. These days demonstrated that

soldiering is a noble profession”. (99)

The contrast with the claims made by Jon Snow and Channel 4 that government

forces were seeking to maximise civilian casualties and the reality provided

by Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own commentator Weiss could not be more clear.

It should also be noted that avoiding civilian casualties was not a priority

for the LTTE. Had Channel 4 News produced a fair and balanced programme it

would have noted, as Weiss does, that while hospitals have a special measure

of protection under international law “the unavoidable corollary is that

this makes them an attractive place for refuge or cover.” (100) Unlike

Channel 4, Weiss is also honest enough to point out that “if a hospital is

used as an artillery position, or a command bunker, then its status is

potentially converted into that of a military objective.” (101) This may

well have explained any army strikes in the vicinity of hospitals during the

crisis. The ICRC complained on several occasions to the LTTE “about

stationing weapons at a hospital”. The ICRC noted that following complaints,

the LTTE would move the assets away, but as they were constantly shifting

these assets, “they might just show up in another unacceptable place shortly

thereafter”.(102) This was simply not dealt with at all in the Channel 4


The LTTE not only stationed weapons and weapons systems within hospitals,

Weiss also notes that the LTTE placed mobile artillery batteries in the

vicinity of hospitals. He cites a UN official who “could see the barrel

flashes from a Tiger heavy artillery piece just 300 metres from [a]

hospital…As the Tiger artillery sent outgoing rounds against the armyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

advance, and then quickly shifted position, he could count off the seconds

until an incoming barrage responded in an effort to destroy the guns.” (103)

The UN official noted that “[t]he Tamil Tigers were placing their guns

dangerously close to our location [opposite the hospital], and were quite

intentionally in my view drawing fire towards the hospital. Civilians were

being killed.” (104) As Weiss noted, the official “had seen the Tiger gun

positions that had violated the agreed no-war zone around the hospital.”

(105) Weiss further noted that “the Tigers appeared to have ignored the

brokered agreement meant to safeguard the wounded and medical staff…the

sanctity of the hospital had in effect evaporated.” (106) These were not

isolated incidents. The United Nations Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka

also reported that “The LTTE…fired mobile artillery from the vicinity of

the [PTK] hospital.” (107) Dr Sivapalan, the medical officer at

Chavakachcheri and former medical officer in the Vanni, one of the Tamil

doctors who remained in the zone until the end, confirmed that LTTE had a

command post within 100 metres of the PTK hospital

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” something which he says

the ICRC confirmed to him

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and that the LTTE had heavy weapons and a

vehicle-mounted heavy weapon system very close to the hospital. (108) Dr

Shanmugarajah also confirmed that LTTE military forces used the cover of

hospitals, and noted that that his family had been wounded as a result: “The

LTTE had their camps located in a 100 – 200 metres vicinity of the

Mullaitivu hospital where I was working. My quarters was damaged and my wife

and son received minor injuries due to an artillery shell in 2008. I donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t

know from which side it was launched. It is very difficult to guess. Later

the ICRC asked the LTTE to move their camps away from the hospital.” (109)

With regard to attacks on hospitals and particularly Puthukudiyirippu

hospital, UTHR recorded that “[a] senior educator familiar with the hospital

told us that the LTTE largely disregarded the ICRCƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s request not to drive or

park its vehicles in front of the Hospital, as these could be spotted by

UAVs leading to shell attacks.” (110) UTHR noted when Puthukudiyirippu

hospital was hit “on 2nd February at 6.40 PM or on a subsequent occasion,

the hospital staff and the people around soon became quite sure that it was

this time the LTTE that fired.” UTHR reported further that “[t]he ICRC had

in fact asked the LTTE not bring their vehicles and weapons near PTK

Hospital, but to no avail. Some of the hospital ambulances had also been

taken over by the LTTE, whose leaders were using them to move around.” UTHR

stated that senior LTTE cadres confirmed that the movement had deliberately

attacked hospitals: “A senior officer who lost close relatives due to army

shelling, and is just coming out of a prolonged depression, blamed the LTTE

for much of the suffering and said emphatically that the LTTE fired shells

on civilian institutions such as hospitals.” (111)

It is a matter of record that the Sri Lankan army used radar-controlled

counter-artillery fire which would direct gunfire to the location of LTTE

artillery positions. Independent sources have made it clear that the LTTE

would deliberately fire from hospitals and other civilian locations in

attempts to draw government fire into those areas. They may well have

succeeded on occasion.

A fair, balanced and ethical programme would have included the fact that the

LTTE were shelling into their own civilian population

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” which would have

been for one reason and one reason only

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” to kill and injure Tamil

civilians, and especially medical staff and patients in order to provoke

international intervention. Any professional journalist looking at the

allegations about the shelling of civilians in the past few months of the

war would have asked the simple question, “cui bono”, who benefits? What

possible benefit would the government have secured from deliberately

shelling civilians and hospitals? There is no obvious benefit at all, only

negative consequences including international condemnation and pressure for


How then would the LTTE have benefited from the shelling of civilians and

hospitals? The answer is a simple one. As Weiss correctly pointed out, the

LTTE leader Prabakharan “chose…to play out the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”CNN effectƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of a brutal

and bloody siege of Tamil civilians on international public opinion.” (112)

Weiss notes that by January 2009, the LTTE “were increasingly desperate to

force an international intervention. Tiger cadres were ordered to turn on

those at their mercy. They shot many hundreds who tried to cross to the

safety of government lines.” (113) Given its record for coldblooded

ruthlessness, it can safely be assumed that the LTTE would not hesitate to

kill civilians under its control to further its cause. As the government

offensive gradually reduced the area controlled by the LTTE, the movement

became increasingly desperate and ruthless. It was fighting for its very

existence. Its only way of avoiding total defeat was for international

intervention to stop the offensive or secure a ceasefire: this was how the

LTTE had avoided defeat during a similar offensive in 1987. (114) Skilled

propagandists that they were, the LTTE would have realised that the only

possible way of provoking that international intervention would be through

allegations that government forces were deliberately killing civilians and

especially patients in hospitals. Independent commentators noted that

“[c]learly, the LTTE hopes that international pressure and the growing

anxiety over the loss of civilian lives will force Colombo into some

compromise.” (115) In May 2009, an independent Canadian geopolitical

monitoring publication noted: “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

find themselves up against a wall with no hope of launching a conventional

counter-attack against the Sri Lankan Army. As such, their survival now

hinges on a worldwide propaganda war.” (116)

Dead civilians, and especially dead and mutilated patients in hospitals,

provided the basis for this desperate propaganda war. And if the army was

not shelling civilians or hospitals in the quantities needed to tip the

propaganda balance it is very probable that the LTTE stepped in. There is

only one reason why the LTTE would shell a hospital or medical point within

its own territory. Unlike Sri Lankan forces who could not be expected to

know the shifting locations of hospitals and often temporary medical points,

the LTTE would know exactly where they were

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” for the treatment of their

wounded fighters, as a covert military position or as possible place of

sanctuary for its leaders. Unlike Sri Lankan forces, the LTTE could not say

they had shelled or mortared any medical point by accident. It could only

have been on purpose. And, as documented by the UN, Gordon Weiss, and the

UTHR, the LTTE did shell into its own Tamil civilians and hospitals. Given

the incredibly ruthless and violent track record of the LTTE, and given the

very desperate circumstances in which this brutal organisation found itself

in, there can be very little doubt why they did so.

An international intervention on the back of dead and injured Tamil

civilians was precisely what the LTTE and its propaganda machine sought to

force. Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s then Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, said the

government had “intercepted LTTE messages to the Tamil diaspora asking it to

keep up the propaganda blitz because liberal-minded Western countries will

be forced to intervene.” (117) On 10 May, for example, the LTTE stated that

they were “dismayed” that the international community had not intervened in

the crisis. It claimed that 2,000 civilians had been killed in the preceding

24 hours. (118) On 14 May 2011, the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s internet propaganda arm,

Tamilnet, announced that the LTTE had called “upon the international

community to protect the civilians from this ongoing carnage by taking

whatever measure required.” It reported that the “LTTE Peace Secretariat”

claimed that 1,700 civilians were killed and over 3,000 wounded “within the

last 48 hours” and that “the catastrophic situation has been made worse by

the acute shortage of food and medicine.” (119)

Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own witness, Gordon Weiss, confirms that the LTTE shelled their

own people, something which fatally undermines Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “one size fits

all”, “only the government would have done this”, template in “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

Killing Fields”. Weiss reveals that:

“[T]here is good evidence that at least on some occasions the Tamil Tigers

fired artillery into their own people. The terrible calculation was that

with enough dead Tamils, a toll would eventually be reached that would lead

to international outrage and intervention.” (120)

Even more damning for Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claims, Weiss also states with regard to

the hospital at Puthukudiyirippu

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the hospital at the heart of the Channel

4 programme

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that it was said to have been hit by artillery fire on several

occasions, and that “a number of strikes appeared to be from Tamil Tiger

positions”. (121) UTHR also reported LTTE artillery attacks on PTK hospital.

Could one or more of the attacks on PTK hospital referred to in “The Killing

Fields” have come from the LTTE? How would Channel 4 be able to

differentiate between alleged attacks by the government or by the LTTE,

leaving aside self-serving claims by propagandists such as Vany Kumar? Far

from “evidence required to convict”, Channel 4 is not able to prove who

actually attacked the hospital upon which it chose to focus. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

noted that “The government says that the Tigers, who are proscribed as a

terrorist group by many countries, have been shelling the no-fire zone in an

effort to provoke international outrage and demands for a ceasefire. The

rebels have certainly kept up their traditional abuses: forcibly recruiting

civilians, including children, and murdering dissenters.” (122) Weiss and

UTHR have confirmed that the governmentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claims were true. As Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

own witness, Gordon Weiss, notes “there is good evidence that at least on

some occasions the Tamil Tigers fired artillery into their own people” and

that they shelled hospitals. (123) Although supposedly focused on “evidence”

, Jon Snow is silent on WeissƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “good evidence” as it contradicts Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

s “evidence” and would have fatally undermined the centrality of Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s


It was not a particularly complicated or even original formula. The LTTE

would shell or mortar or fire rocket-propelled grenades at hospitals or

other medical points. They would have experienced video teams waiting to

film and photograph any incident and its aftermath and then immediately

broadcast attacks on the hospitals in calls for international intervention

to halt the armyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s offensive. Indeed, Vany Kumar states that there was a

LTTE video cameraman with her in the hospital that was shelled. This

sequence of events had not escaped the attention of the international

community. The US government also reported that “The UN noted it could not

be ruled out that the LTTE shelled civilian areas to assign blame to the

SLA. ” (124) Having arranged for the shelling of hospitals for use in its

propaganda campaign, it then follows that the LTTE would then also direct or

coerce the Tamil doctors to telephone the international media to report the

attacks, and their inevitably bloody aftermath. Vany Kumar would also

telephone the international media. She, of course, needed to coercion, she

was willingly following orders.

Weiss noted the activities of the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s internet propaganda machine in this

respect: “Tamilnet issued a vast array of new photographs and video of

civilians being subjected to bombing.” (125) Some of the photographs which

can be viewed illustrate the cynical nature of the LTTE and its propaganda

teams. One photo that appeared in Western media and Tamil Net in May 2009

purports to be of the “shelling of innocent Tamil civilians in the NFZ by

Sri Lankan army”. The photograph was clearly staged by a LTTE propaganda

team: the camerawoman and her assistant can be seen smiling and very at ease

in the background. (126)

The Tamil doctors and the media

Weiss recorded that LTTE “sought to totally control those it ruled” (127),

and the organisationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “use of summary executions” to effect control of “all

aspects of life”. (128) Having logically focused on the medical,

“humanitarian” button to push in its desperate effort to avert defeat, the

LTTE focused on the Tamil government doctors who had remained active in the

zone. While the organisation strictly controlled communications with the

outside world they pressurised Tamil government doctors to contact western

media on a regular basis throughout the conflict. These doctors, one of

whom, Dr Shanmugarajah, is featured in the Channel 4 programme, made a

number of allegations about the worsening situation in the zone. Whether

these doctors were coerced by the LTTE

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” as they subsequently stated ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” was

an inconvenient question ignored by Channel 4. (129) Tellingly, Kumar was

also making international telephone calls.

That the Tamil doctors were very tightly controlled by the LTTE is clear.

The University Teachers for Human Rights revealed that Dr Shanmugarajah had

tried to escape from the Vanni, was apprehended by the LTTE, beaten and

taken back to the no-fire zone: “The LTTE kept all the doctors under close

watch. An armed guard was placed near them even when they did surgical

operations.” (130) The LTTE also placed Vany Kumar and others to monitor


Weiss records that the Sri Lankan government believed that UN Tamil staff

could have been “forced to distort their reports”. (131) He also conceded

“the prospect that the Tamil Tigers might be forcing the Tamil doctors or

the UNƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own staff to give inflated figures of the dead and wounded.” (132)

That is to say he thought it was possible. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Sri

Lankan minister for disaster management and human rights, made the point

that there was “no free flow of information from” the conflict zone “under

control of the LTTE”. (133) On 16 May, the LTTE finally let the Tamil

government doctors leave the area and they crossed over into government

territory. The importance of the Tamil doctors to the LTTE and its desperate

attempts to force an international intervention is clear. The accusations of

mass deaths from alleged government shelling were said by Ravi Nessman, the

Associated Press bureau chief, to be “based on scattered reports that weƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢re


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the very few reports weƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢re able to get. ” Nessman cited as sources

the doctors, who were some of “the very few people with telephones that

still work”. (134)

On 8 July, in the wake of the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s defeat, the five Tamil doctors present

throughout the crisis, Drs Sinnathurai Sivapalan, Weerakathipillai

Shanmugarajah, Thurairajah Vartharaja, Thangamurthy Sathyamoorthy and

Kathiravelu Ilancheliyan, held a press conference in Columbo. Dr Sivapalan,

the Medical Officer in Charge of the LTTE-run Ponnambalam Memorial Hospital

in Puthukkudiyirippu, provided a picture of the circumstances in which the

civilian population were being held: “The conditions the people had to live

were horrible. LTTE wouldnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t let them go to the cleared areas and held them

with force in this area where there was no drinking water and proper

sanitary facilities. There was no place to find hygienic drinking water and

there were no wells.” (135) The doctors admitted that they had lied through

the conflict and had been forced by the LTTE to exaggerate civilian casualty

figures. (136) Dr Shanmugarajah confirmed the Tamil doctors misled the

international media and foreign governments: “Yes we regret giving a false

impression to the outside world.” (137) The doctors stated that the LTTE had

taken food and medical shipments sent by the government and then forced the

doctors to tell the media that there were shortages. Dr Shanmugarajah

stated: “The LTTE grabbed a major part of the food stocks for the use of

their cadres which was sent by the Government through the ICRC ship.” (138)

Dr Varatharajah said that on eight occasions the Government sent medicines

and related supplies after the no-fire zone was declared and the LTTE

diverted these from the doctors to treat their own injured cadres and then

forced the doctors to state that there was a shortage of medical supplies.

(139) Dr Shanmugaraja said the doctors knew times would be difficult and had

stocked up on medical supplies and that they “had enough medical supplies”

until the end of conflict. He also said they were able to run generators and

refrigerators in the medical centres until the last moment. (140) Dr

Shanmugarajah, featured in the Channel 4 programme, admitted that “The

information that I have given is false…The figures were exaggerated due to

pressure from the LTTE.” (141) He stated: “When they (LTTE) asked me to put

the figure at 1000, I said that it is totally unacceptable…There were

times when ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Voice of TigersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ (LTTE official radio) reports exaggerated

figures of casualties quoting me as the source of information without

actually interviewing me.” (142)

Dr Sathyamoorthy also confirmed that “[t]he LTTE…quoted us in their web

sites without our consent or knowledge giving exaggerated figures of

civilian deaths and casualties.” (143) Tamilnet provides a clear example of

putting what can only but be described as jarringly propagandistic words

into the mouth of a doctor. It reported that a doctor at the Udaiyaarkaddu

hospital said: “The world is silently witnessing one of the worst massacres

of helpless civilians in contemporary times. These civilians know no crime

other than not knowing where to go. While the genocidal military of the

Colombo government is on the killing spree, India and the international

community sadistically expect the civilians to come running out into the

hands of their killers. Either way they expect them to perish.” The doctor

is also said to have dismissed allegations of the LTTE use of civilians as a

human shield as “a farce”. (144) Most dispassionate observers would conclude

that these are indeed more the words of a propagandist than a medical


It should also be noted that the western media have officially been

sceptical at the claims made by Tamil doctors once they had left LTTE

control. While arguably there may well be an innate western media prejudice

against the Sri Lankan government, there is a more obvious reason. Given

there were no “independent” sources in the Vanni, many western media reports

quoted the Tamil doctors (as they were encouraged to do by the LTTE) and

used the claims and “figures” provided by the Tamil doctors without

reservation in “coverage” of what was happening. If even half of what the

Tamil doctors revealed in July 2009 regarding LTTE intimidation and having

to make false claims is true, it would invalidate dozens of western

newspaper articles and media news items. It would be tremendously

embarrassing for those journalists who were naive and unprofessional enough

to have written those articles. It is unsurprising, therefore, that APƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

Ravi Nessman would claim “there was no credibility” to the testimony of the

Tamil doctors. (145) Given NessmanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s very heavy reliance in his articles on

clearly questionable claims by the doctors, his defensiveness is


The simple question not answered by Nessman and rest of the western media is

why did they automatically assume that the Tamil doctors are under pressure

from the government with regard to casualty figures during the Vanni

operations, when the western media uniformly failed to in any way raise

precisely the same question when the doctors were working under armed guard

at the mercy of the worldƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s most vicious, and by that stage very desperate,

terrorist movements?

How many people died in the zone?

It is sadly all too obvious that there were a large number of civilian

deaths in the last few months of the Sri Lankan civil war. Whatever the

final figure, one death was one too many. It is a simple statement of fact

that all of these casualties could have been avoided had 300,000 civilians

not been forced by the LTTE into a war zone. The LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s deliberate use of

the civilians as human shields resulted in the death of civilians in cross

fire between LTTE and government forces in the course of the grim fighting.

It was also clear from independent sources that the LTTE deliberately drew

government fire into civilian areas. In a report released in 2011 the

government admitted that “[i]t was impossible in a battle of this magnitude,

against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian

casualties to be avoided.” (146)

Jon Snow claims that government shelling and other action may have resulted

in “the deaths of as many as 40,000 people, probably far more”. It is very

difficult if not impossible to reach any such conclusion. Leaving aside

claims that it is exaggerated, Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s claim falls immediately because

there is not the slightest attempt whatsoever to differentiate between how

many of those said to have been killed were LTTE cadres (there were

estimates that up to 20,000 LTTE fighters were killed in the last few months

of fighting) or how many civilians Channel 4 claims to have died were killed

by the LTTE. In one instance alone, for example, cited above, University

Teachers for Human Rights reported that on 14 May, the LTTE killed 500

civilians near Nanthikadal Lagoon as they tried to cross to the other side

or to Vattuvakkal to the south. (147) There are dozens of other examples of

the LTTE killing civilians in and around the no-fire zones. Weiss himself

states that the LTTE shot, executed and “beat to death many hundreds of

people” and ensured “the deaths of thousands of teenagers by press-ganging

them into the front lines, and [killed] those children and their parents who

resisted”. (148)

The University Teachers for Human Rights has urged caution in making the

very sorts of claims to which Channel 4 has been party:

“We also pointed out that in giving casualty figures, the distinction

between civilians, conscripts and cadres has not been clearly made…The

only accurate means of finding out casualties is to count and alternatively

to have a clear idea of what was happening on the ground. In their absence,

technology and statistical formulae may turn out to be very misleading.

Another important indicator is that the people who escaped during the last

week of the conflict blame largely the LTTE, towards which their anger is

directed…We know that on the May 14th and May 17th night, the LTTE was to

a large extent responsible for civilian deaths.” (149)

The estimates of how many people died in the Vanni are in any instance very

varied. In February 2009, the US Embassy noted that the pro-LTTE “Tamil

National Alliance parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan claimed that 2000

Tamil civilians have been killed and 4500 injured since mid-December….Such

reports from Tamil sources cannot be confirmed and are frequently

exaggerated.” (150) The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Voice of TigersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “official radio”,

claimed on 1 March 2009, that the Sri Lankan armed forces had been

responsible for the deaths of 2,018 Tamil civilians in January and February

2009 in Vanni. (151) These figures were repeated by UN High Commissioner for

Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, on 13 March 2009. Sir John Holmes, the UN

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief

Coordinator, stated in New York on 24 March 2009 that this figure could not

be verified: “The reason we have not come out with this as our figure is

because, as I have said before, we cannot verify it in a way that you want

to be able to verify, if you put it as your public figure.” (152)

Gordon WeissƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s estimate of 7,000 civilian deaths, made in 2009, was

challenged by Sir John Holmes as unverified and unreliable. Reuters noted

that “Holmes said the initial figure of 7,000 deaths had been deemed far too

questionable for official publication because the world body was not in a

position to calculate a reliable death count. It was not really present in

the battle zone, he said.” (153) In late April a private UN document

detailed the casualties of the last three months of fighting. According to

“verified data”, some 6,432 Tamil civilians may have died with 13,946

wounded. (154) The US government has admitted that it has “not received

casualty estimates covering the entire reporting period from January to May

2009”. It did place on record, however, that “one organization, which did

not differentiate between civilians and LTTE cadres, recorded 6,710 people

killed and 15,102 people injured between January 20 to April 20”. (155) At

the end of May 2009, John Holmes was asked about a report in ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

claiming 20,000 civilians may have been killed in the zone. Holmes denied it

was based on UN figures. “The truth is we simply donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t know. It doesnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t

reflect any estimate we made for ourselves. We did have our own internal

estimate until the end of April. After that, we didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t have anyone on the

ground.” The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ reported that Gordon Weiss claimed “we have always

said many thousands of people died during the conflict”: the newspaper also

noted that “privately, UN staff admitted they were puzzled by the

methodology used to achieve the new death toll. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Someone has made an

imaginative leap and that is at odds with what we have been saying before,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

one official said. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”It is a very dangerous thing to do to start making

extrapolations.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢” (156) This is however exactly what Channel 4 News, Weiss

and others have done. The UN has continued to distance itself from the

claims made by Weiss. In February 2010, the UN office in Sri Lanka stated

that his views were his personal ones and that while the UN “maintained

internal estimates of casualties, circumstances did not permit us to

independently verify them on the ground, and therefore we do not have

verifiable figures of how many casualties there were.” (157) Data compiled

by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, data “primarily based on figures

released by the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net”, put the casualty figure for

civilians inside Mullaitivu at 2,972 till 5 April 2009. (158)

University Teachers for Human Rights also revealed pivotal testimony which

fatally discredits the sorts of claims being made by Channel 4 News, Gordon

Weiss and other anti-government figures, especially with regard to the issue

of civilians who allegedly died as a result of government action:

“It must be placed on record that, in the estimate of a school principal who

was there in the NFZ, about 25% of the civilian casualties in the NFZ,

averaging about 15 to 20 a day, were of people killed by the LTTE when

trying to escape. Other estimates are similar.” (159)

UTHR also documents another equally important fact:

“The principal described something else he had seen. 15 escapees had been

shot dead opposite the Putumattalan Hospital. Along with the daily quota of

dead resulting from army shelling, these bodies too were placed in a space

ringed by ropes on a side of the hospital. With the help of labourers, the

doctor looked at the bodies and pronounced the cause of death. The

distinction was clear between shell injuries and bullet injuries. The doctor

regularly pronounced all of them to have died due to army firing. The

principal remarked, “I wonder how he did it?” This went on day after day and

perhaps above a thousand died trying to cross the strip of water.” (160)

UTHR notes that “we must keep in mind practices that had come to be accepted

as normal under the provenance of terror. No doctor in an LTTE-controlled

area dared to certify the LTTE as the cause of a death.” The Tamil doctors

present in the Vanni throughout the conflict have also confirmed that any

LTTE-inflicted civilian casualties were never mentioned in these reports

coming out of the area. (161) The implications of what UTHR described are

very significant. Not only would it have meant that at the very least one

quarter of the generally accepted civilian death toll was directly

attributable to the LTTE, it also meant that any other civilians killed or

injured as a result of LTTE action, whether shelling or otherwise, and

brought to a hospital or medical point would automatically be ascribed to

government forces by the doctors present. This too dramatically skews the

mortality figures. (162)

It is also worth noting that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has spoken

about the mortality figures being cited by newspapers: “Most of these

figures do not emanate from the U.N. and most are not consistent with the

information at our disposal.” (163) A coordinator for UN humanitarian

relief, Elizabeth Byrs, told the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”New York TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ that any estimate of the

death toll is based on extrapolation and guesswork. (164) The BBC noted

after the end of the war that: “The UN says that there are no confirmed

estimates of civilian casualties.” (165) The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ has noted that

“independent confirmation of the death toll in the final days has been

impossible.” (166) Nonetheless, in his book, “The Cage”, published two years

after the war, Weiss increased the figure from the Tamilnet figures of 2,972

through 7,000 and onwards: “The sixteen-week siege led to the deaths of

between 10,000 and 40,000 people.” (167) It is worth noting that Weiss

makes claims in his book regarding fatalities in the Vanni which

self-evidently could be inaccurate by up to 300 percent. Jon Snow and

Channel 4 werenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t content with this figure, asserting that the government

was responsible for “the death of as many as 40,000 people, possibly far

more”. Channel 4 News subsequently increased the death toll by a further

10,000, broadcasting a news item centred around a “witness” called

“Fernando” who claimed to have personally seen 50,000 fatalities buried.

(168) The statistical and common sense implications of Channel 4 News

arbitrarily increasing the alleged number of fatalities from already deeply

questionable claims to such figures that is even more difficult to sustain

undermines any claim that it was presenting “evidence required to convict”.

Unlike Jon Snow, Reuters objectively summed up the debate about the Vanni

casualty toll: “The United Nations has disavowed an internal tally that

showed about 7,000 civilians died, which was leaked to the media and

accounts of up to 40,000 or more deaths have yet to be substantiated by any

independent authority.” (169) Simply put, the Channel 4 claims are

absolutely unsupported. Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s star witness, Vany Kumar, would have the

world believe that 20,000 people died in the last five days of the crisis.

Even TamilNet, in propagandistic overdrive at the time, did not claim that

4,000 people died per day. In July 2011, UNICEF released the results of its

Family Tracing and Reunification project dealing with requests regarding

missing persons since the end of the war in May 2009. It was active in nine

districts. The reunification project recorded 2,564 missing people tracing

enquiries, 1,888

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” almost 75 percent ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” relating to adults and 676 relating

to children. (170) It perhaps goes without saying that if there had been

40,000 or many more deaths in the last few weeks then there would have been

considerably more than 2,576 missing persons tracing requests.

It is difficult not to sympathise with the Sri Lankan Secretary of the

Defence Ministry Gotabaya RajapaksaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s response to the 40,000 deaths claim:

“This a vague accusation, based on even vaguer arithmetic which keeps

getting repeated with out any sort of critical analysis by people who should

know better.” (171)

Mobile telephone footage of executions

Channel 4 makes a lot of what appears to be video or mobile telephone

footage of bound naked and semi-naked prisoners being executed by men in

military uniforms. Jon Snow states that they were “naked Tiger prisoners”

and that the killing was “recorded on a mobile phone by Sri Lankan

government forces”. Channel 4 then presents some more footage of an

execution of three people whom it states “appear to be Tiger fighters”.

The authenticity of the film footage shown on Channel 4 has been called into

question. It showed clear signs of some form of editing, and it is still not

clear whether it was filmed with a mobile telephone or video camera. Channel

4 says the footage was filmed on mobile cameras: technical and digital

experts who analysed the images say that it had to have come from a video

camera with optical zooming. A Sri Lankan government expert pointed out, for

example, that “30 frames at the end of the video stream only contained a

letter ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”AƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ against a blank background. This is not consistent with an

original video from a mobile telephone source.” The UNƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s expert found that

“The multimedia file submitted for analysis actually contains 17 frames of

the uppercase letter ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”AƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in white against a red background. The presence of

this character is suspect, though not conclusive”. The UNƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own report

stated that “The multimedia file submitted for analysis, VideoDJ.3gp, cannot

be authenticated to an absolute certainty without access to the device

purportedly used to make the recording for further testing and comparison.”

It also stated that “Of course, there is no way to confirm solely from this

recording the identity of the potential victims or the shooters. Neither

whether the shooters were actually Sri Lanka military members as opposed to

Tamils dressed in Sri Lanka military uniforms, nor whether the potential

victims were Tamils or instead innocent victims of another ethnic group can

be determined from this recording. There are unexplained characteristics of

this file, the most troubling of which from a file integrity standpoint is

the text which appears in the final 17 frames of video.” This was described

as a “potentially suspicious feature”. (172) These clear concerns

notwithstanding, somewhat surprisingly, Channel 4 has claimed with regard to

the tests that “Forensic video analyst Jeff Spivack concluded that the

technical attributes of the images were entirely consistent with mobile

phone footage. He also said there was no evidence of editing or image

manipulation.” (173)

The Sri Lankan government states that it has repeatedly requested Channel 4

to provide a copy of the mobile telephone footage that was aired by them in

order to ascertain the authenticity of the footage. The government states

that Channel 4 has not provided a copy of the footage that is in their

possession to the Government. (174) This would also be an equally

“suspicious feature”.

For all its hype that the programme presented “evidence required to convict”

, the mobile telephone footage left more questions unanswered than


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” most significantly whom was shooting whom. Accepting that the

video or mobile telephone footage did record the real execution of soldiers

or civilians, the question Channel 4 did not and cannot answer is whether it

is possible that the gunmen doing the shooting

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and the filming ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” were LTTE

cadres and the people being killed were captured government personnel or

Tamil or Sinhalese civilians? The report commissioned by the UN Special

Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said there was

no way of doing so. The director of the Channel 4 programme, Callum McCrae,

said the gunmen must have been army soldiers because they were wearing Sri

Lankan army uniforms and spoke Sinhalese. For the very serious allegations

being made in his programme this is an unacceptably naive but understandably

self-serving position to take. Channel 4 may have been unaware that the LTTE

had on several occasions posed as government soldiers while killing

civilians. One of the best documented instances

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” it was filmed by the LTTE


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” was when the LTTE used Sri Lankan army uniforms in an attack at

Anuradhapura, the Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bohdi massacre, on 14 May 1985,

in which 146 civilians were murdered. (175) They may have even spoken in

Sinhalese during part of the attack. There is in any instance ample film

footage of LTTE cadres wearing uniforms similar to those of government

forces. (176) The University Teachers for Human Rights have also confirmed

the LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s deliberate misuse of army uniforms, mentioning, for example, that

in February 2009 “[a]n LTTE reconnaissance unit wearing army uniforms had

gone about five miles behind army lines.” (177) There is little doubt that

the LTTE would not have hesitated to kill prisoners for propaganda reasons.

Weiss notes that the organisation “appear to have slaughtered captured

soldiers and policemen with especially terrifying ferocity”. (178) In

November 2010, the BBC reported an alleged confession by captured LTTE

fighters of the torture and execution of 26 Sri Lankan servicemen in January

2009. (179) It has also been stated that a video of the original footage

broadcast by Channel 4 News reveals those doing the shooting to be speaking

in Tamil, and that Sinhalese commentary was then overlaid. (180)

The Channel 4 programme also carried claims made by yet another unidentified

witness that a group of women and girls were raped and then taken away, with

the implication that they were then killed: the witness does not explain why

she and her daughter were similarly not taken away. Channel 4 also presents

another unidentified witness who claimed to have a portfolio of photographs

of dead LTTE leaders taken on a senior officerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s camera. He does not show

them. There are also questions that must be asked about a yawning

credibility gap between the footage and the commentary. Jon Snow claimed

that naked corpses filmed in situ or being moved onto trucks showed signs of

having been raped or abused even though there was no visible sign or

indication of any abuse on the bodies. When challenged on this issue, the

director of the programme fell back on the views of an anonymous “forensic

pathologist” who would not have seen any more than any other viewer. (181)

The programme shows a photograph of rows of dead LTTE personnel and claims

that the same “forensic” expert noted that a number of them had “gunshots to

the head”. While Channel 4 showed long lines of dead LTTE leaders and

fighters, and alleged that they had been executed by the Sri Lankan army,

Weiss describes the same scene: “The forensic teams had…identified the

bodies of the…senior Tiger leaders as they were dredged from bogs or

dragged from the dune faces where they had fallen. They laid the fighters in

long, stinking ranks, their corpses engorged, burned and mutilated, their

arms outstretched, their flesh marked by chemical burns or cyanide, their

faces contorted.” (182) Did Channel 4 ask their forensic pathologist whether

the visible head wounds he or she may have noted might have been consistent

with injuries that might have ensued had they been killed in close combat

with the Sri Lankan army, had they been shot in the head by their comrades

for wanting to surrender (which is also reported as having happened to some

LTTE cadres), or if they had committed suicide by shooting themselves in the

head? Might these also have been possible reasons for gunshot wounds to the

head? Was Channel 4 even aware of the all-encompassing cult of suicide

within the LTTE?

“Evidence required to convict”?

For all Jon SnowƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s hyperbole, and despite the very serious allegations made

in the programme, Channel 4 has followed the mundane and superficial path

outlined in Professor Susan MoellerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s clinical description of how the media

handles crises: “[the crisis] will become a front-page, top-of-the-news

story…At this point, the story is grossly simplified: clear victims,

villains and heroes are created; language such as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”harrowing,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hellish,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”unprecedentedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢…is employed; huge numbers are tossed off frequently and

casually, with few references to sourcesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦The set piece is ideal material for

television and superficial print coverage.” (183)

If Jon Snow truly believed that “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields” presented

“evidence required to convict” then in addition to the remarkable decline in

journalistic standards at Channel 4 as pointed out by A A Gill, there has

also been a sharp decline in common sense. In a court of law, and indeed in

any reputable journalistic institution, unnamed and disguised “witnesses”

making sensationalistic and unverifiable claims about events that have been

irretrievably mired in propaganda would be treated with extreme caution.

(184) And while all the programmeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Sri Lankan “witnesses” were nameless,

Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s star witness, Vany Kumar, actually had five names. Far from

being an Englishwoman of Tamil descent accidentally caught up in Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

civil war and therefore an impartial, neutral commentator and presented as

such by Channel 4, Kumar was an active supporter of the LTTE movement who

had been in Sri Lanka for military training and who had worked as a

propagandist for the movement. It would be the equivalent of a member of

Sinn Fein being presented on Sri Lankan television as an impartial

commentator on events in Northern Ireland. Courts also do not like witnesses

who change their testimony

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” as Kumar did in respect of her accounts of what

happened in the last few months. Courts would also take a dim view of

allegations being made on the strength of mobile telephone footage which

UN-commissioned experts have said could not be sustained. But even more

serious to the court would be the fact that Channel 4 clearly sought to hide

exculpatory evidence

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that is to say evidence which might prove the

defendant is innocent. Had Channel 4 and its researchers read WeissƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s “The

Cage”, they would have known that the very hospital at the heart of their

documentary (and others) was hit repeatedly by LTTE artillery. Weiss himself

admits as much. It is very difficult indeed

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and Channel 4 made no such


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” to differentiate between the alleged shelling by the government

and that of the LTTE. If they were not aware of that fact then they were

grotesquely incompetent and unprofessional in making the serious claims

contained in the programme. And on an equally vital issue, Channel 4 also

fails to in any way account for the cause of death of the tens of thousands

of people it claims were killed, how many of them may have been LTTE cadres

or civilians or who may have been responsible for their deaths: Channel 4,

for example, does not address claims by the UTHR that thousands of civilians

were shot by the LTTE. Simply put, this does not add up to “evidence

required to convict”.

Jon Snow and Channel 4 rightly hounded Tony Blair and his government over

their “dodgy dossier”, and its manifest failings, regarding Iraq. Snow and

Channel 4 have managed to produce their own dodgy documentary, in this case

relating to Sri Lanka. Far from being a once in a lifetime journalistic

achievement, “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields” will probably be remembered as a

case study in journalistic prejudice, ineptitude and unprofessionalism.

There are a number of questions which Jon Snow and Channel 4 should answer

before they continue to back-slap themselves about how unique and

groundbreaking their programme was:

Why did Jon Snow and Channel 4 claim that it was the Sri Lankan army that

forced Tamil civilians from their homes in 2008 when Human Rights Watch and

Amnesty International, amongst others, clearly stated it was the LTTE that

illegally forced the civilians to accompany them?

Why did Channel 4 not explain how it inflated the putative death toll from

the UNƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s unverifiable 7,000 deaths to one some five times higher?

Why did Channel 4 not mention that the LTTE had on a number of occasions

shelled hospitals in the no-fire zones? Were they aware of these shellings

or that Gordon Weiss, the UN and the University Teachers for Human Rights

had reported the LTTE had done so?

Did Channel 4 not consider the possibility that the LTTE might be shelling

its own civilians and hospitals in order to provoke an international

intervention or a forced ceasefire?

Did Channel 4 not consider

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” as Gordon Weiss clearly did ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that the Tamil

doctors may have been put under LTTE pressure to make false statements?

Why did Channel 4 not check Vany KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s background, especially as she had

already appeared on Channel 4 News under a different name? Why did Channel 4

have doubts about KumarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s credibility in 2009 and not in 2011?

Why did Channel 4 persist in its claims that the mobile telephone footage it

showed was of government soldiers killing LTTE prisoners when the

UN-commissioned expert said there is no way to confirm solely from this

recording whether the shooters were actually Sri Lanka military members as

opposed to Tamils dressed in Sri Lanka military uniforms?

Does Channel 4 not accept that a statutory requirement for “balance” in a

programme dealing with human rights abuse is not achieved by the cursory

inclusion of 49 seconds out of 50 minutes dealing with LTTE human rights

abuse when UTHR reports that the LTTE may have deliberately killed one

quarter of those said to have died in the Vanni just for trying to escape

from its illegal detention, ignoring for the moment how many more they may

have killed by deliberate shelling?

Does Channel 4 believe that “evidence required to convict” includes an

estimate for the number of Tamil civilians displaced by the LTTE that had a

25 percent margin of error?

Why did Jon Snow and Channel 4 not once mention that the LTTE was listed

throughout the world as a terrorist organisation, or even once refer to it

as such?

Why were there no interviews with anyone with a contrary, questioning or

neutral viewpoint

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” security analysts, or political or legal commentators?



1 “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields”, Channel 4, 14 June 2011, available at


2 Ibid.

3 Jon Snow, “Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” a project that can affect

history”, Channel 4, 14 June 2011, available at



4 A.A. Gill, “Judged”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Sunday TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 20 June 2011.

5 ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Liberation Tigers of Tamil EelamƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s (LTTE) International Organization and

Operations – A Preliminary AnalysisƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Commentary No 77, Canadian Security

Intelligence Service, Ottawa, 1999, available at


6 Gordon Weiss, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the

Tamil TigersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, The Bodley Head, London, 2011.

7 For the governmentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s history of the final phase of the war, see

“Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis July 2006-May 2009”, Ministry of

Defence, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Columbo, July 2011,

available at <>.

8 Ibid., p.94.

9 “Government takes policy decision to abrogate failed CFA”, Ministry of

Defence, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Columbo, 2 January

2008, available at <>.

10 The Vanni, also spelled Wanni, is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, and

comprises parts of the districts of Kilinochchi (to the north), Mullaitivu

(east), Mannar (west), and Vavuniya (south).

11 LTTE recruits on graduation were issued with a cyanide tablet to take if

the fighter might be captured. Suicide bombers were another feature of the

LTTEƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s culture of death. See, for example, “Female Tamil Tiger bomber kills

28 after hiding among civilians fleeing war”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 10 February 2009:

“All their fighters in the field wear cyanide capsules around their necks to

be taken in case of capture”, available at


12 Weiss, op. cit., xxiv.

13 Ibid., p.2.

14 Ibid., p.80.

15 Ibid., pp.80-81.

16 Ibid., p.81.

17 Ibid., p.299.

18 Ibid., xxii.

19 “Truth and consequences. Nationalistic fury is good for the government,

terrible for Sri Lanka”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 28 April 2011, available at



20 Gordon Weiss, “Tiger Blood”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Foreign PolicyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 26 April 2011, available

at <>.

21 The image that comes most to mind from Channel 4ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s title, is the

Oscar-winning 1984 film, “The Killing Fields”. Ironically, this film is

about a civilian who escapes from a murderous revolutionary movement, the

Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia, that dictated every aspect of life for those

civilians under its control and ruthlessly killed anyone trying to escape

from it. The comparison with the LTTE and its brutal control of civilians


up to and including killing those who sought to escape the Vanni pocket

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” is


22 See, for example, “CambodiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s brutal Khmer Rouge regime”, BBC News, 19

September 2007, available at


asia-pacific/7002629.stm>. For more on the Khmer Rouge, see, Elizabeth

Becker, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”When the War Was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge RevolutionƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢,

Public Affairs, New York, 1998; Nayan Chanda, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Brother Enemy: The War After

the WarƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Collier, New York, 1986; David P. Chandler, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”A History of Cambodia

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Westview Press, 2000; David P. Chandler, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Brother Number One: A Political

BiographyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Westview Press, 1999; David P. Chandler, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Facing the Cambodian

past: Selected essays, 1971

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”1994ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Silkworm Books, 1996; David P. Chandler,

Ben Kiernan et al, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Revolution and Its Aftermath in Kampuchea: Eight EssaysƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

, Yale University Press, 1983; Ben Kiernan, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Pol Pot Regime: Race,

Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”79ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢; Ben

Kiernan, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism

in Cambodia, 1930

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”1975ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Yale University Press, Second Edition 2004.

23 “North Korea may have aided Hezbollah, LTTE

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” U.S. report”, Reuters, 13

December 2007.

24 “A Sri Lankan Evokes Pol Pot; AsiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Latest Master of Terror”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The New

York TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 28 May 1995.

25 Interview with Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press Columbo bureau chief

from 2007-2009, Aired on PBS stations on 18 February 2009, available at


26 Weiss, op. cit., p.98.

27 Ibid., p.98.

28 Ibid., p.104.

29 Ibid., p.9.

30 “Channel 4: Interview with an UK Tamil medic (Damilvani Gnanakumar) who

escaped war in Sri Lanka”, available at


31 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”

, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 15 September 2009, available at


32 Ibid.

33 Weiss, op. cit., pp. 141-42.

34 Ibid., p.109 and p.220.

35 Ibid., p.96.

36 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, University

Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka, Special Report No. 34, 13

December 2009.

37 “Channel 4: Interview with an UK Tamil medic (Damilvani Gnanakumar) who

escaped war in Sri Lanka”, available at


38 “Interview with Dr. Tamilvani: Eye witness to Bloodbath on Mullivaikal

Beach 1 of 3”, Uploaded by lovetamileelam, 29 August 2011, available at


39 “Interview with Dr. Tamilvani: Eye witness to Bloodbath on Mullivaikal

Beach 3 of 3”, Uploaded by lovetamileelam, 29 August 2011, available at


40 Ibid.

41 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”

, op. cit.

42 “Lies Agreed Upon”, Ministry of Defence, Democratic Socialist Republic

of Sri Lanka, Columbo, available at “Lies Agreed Upon: Sri Lanka counters

Channel 4 (Full Video)”, Uploaded by gihangamos on 1 August 2011 available

at <>.

43 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”

, op. cit.

44 See, for example, News of AP, “LTTE journalist, Isaipriya, brutally

murdered by Sri Lankan army”,


y-murdered-by-sri-lankan-army.html>. See, also, “Issipriya not just an

innocent civilian as portrayed by the Channel 4”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Asian TribuneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 20 June

2011, available at



45 “Sri Lanka ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”war crimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ video: womanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s body identified”, Channel 4 News,

8 December 2010, available at



46 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Two of us fled. 75 other women killed themselves with grenadesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

ObserverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 12 April 2009, available at


47 See, for example, “300 LTTE cadres may have committed mass suicide”,

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Daily News & AnalysisƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 17 May 2009, available at



48 Weiss, op. cit., p.103.

49 Ibid.

50 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

51 “War on the Displaced. Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians

in the Vanni”, Human Rights Watch, New York, February 2009.

52 Weiss, op. cit., p.211.

53 “Sri Lanka: Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Civilian Deaths”, Human

Rights Watch, New York, 28 January 2009, available at


54 “Shocking video from Sri Lankan camp for displaced civilians”, Amnesty

International USA, 7 May 2009, available at



55 “Tamil Tigers ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”target civiliansƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, BBC News, 16 February 2009, available



56 “Britain accuses Tamil Tigers of using civilians as human shields. David

Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and his French counterpart said that Tamil

Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka were using civilians as human shields, which was

preventing them from leaving the conflict zone”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Daily TelegraphƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 16

April 2009, available at



57 “Civilians escape the Tigers. Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s army enters the last redoubt

of the Tamil Tigers”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 20 April 2009, available at


58 “Shocking video from Sri Lankan camp for displaced civilians”, Amnesty

International USA, 7 May 2009, available at



59 “War on the Displaced. Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians

in the Vanni”, op. cit. For a detailed analysis by Human Rights Watch of the

development of LTTE restrictions imposed on civilians in the Vanni, see “Sri


ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Trapped and Mistreated: LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni”,

Human Rights Watch, New York, 15 December 2008, available at

<>, and

“Besieged, Displaced and Detained: The Plight of Civilians in Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

Vanni Region”, Human Rights Watch, New York, December 2008, available at


60 Weiss, op. cit., p.108.

61 Ibid., p.84.

62 Ibid., p.114.

63 “Trapped and Mistreated: LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni”,

Human Rights Watch, New York, December 2008, available at


64 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Civilians dieƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in S Lanka battle”, BBC News, 26 January 2009,

available at


65 “How Sri Lanka Tamed Its Tigers”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”TimeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 3 February 2009.

66 “War on the Displaced. Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians

in the Vanni”, op. cit.

67 “Sri Lanka: 250,000 People in War Zone Need Food”, World Food Program, 6

February 2009, available at <>.

68 “Subject: A suggestion for getting many of Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s civilians out of

the conflict zone”, US Government cable, 19 March 2011, available at


69 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

70 “Sri Lanka: Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka: Safety and dignity for the

displaced now”, Amnesty International, New York, ASA 37/016/2009, 10 August

2009, available at


71 See, “Sri Lanka: Resettlement of IDPs and challenging road to peace and

economic recovery”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Asian TribuneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 14 April 2011, available at



72 Weiss, “Tiger Blood”, op. cit.

73 “Sri Lanka massacred up to 40,000 Tamil civilians

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” former UN official”,

TamilNet, 12 February 2010, available at


74 Weiss, “The Cage”, op. cit., p.210.

75 Ibid., p.178.

76 Ibid., p.133.

77 “Tigers enhance firepower. Acquires sophisticated, long range weaponry

as the military prepares counter measures for a decisive showdown”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

NationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 10 August 2007, available at


78 “Sri Lanka rejects deaths report”, BBC News, 29 May 2009.

79 “Subject: Sri Lanka: S/Wci Amb. WilliamsonƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Geneva Meetings”, US

Government cable, 15 July 2009, available at


80 Weiss, “The Cage”, op. cit., p.129.

81 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

82 “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Civilians dieƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in S Lanka battle”, op. cit.

83 “UN says dozens of civilians killed as Tigers flee”, Agence

France-Presse, 27 January 2009.

84 Weiss, op. cit., p.69.

85 “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding”, University

Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka, Special Report No. 32, 10

June 2009.

86 Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka,

US Department of State, Washington-DC, 2009, available at

<>, p.10.

87 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, University

Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka, Special Report No. 34, 13

December 2009.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

91 “Last NightƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s TV

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields, Channel 4″, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

IndependentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 15 June 2011, available at



92 Weiss, “The Cage”, op. cit., p.103.

93 Ibid., xxiv.

94 Ibid., p.181.

95 Ibid., p.211.

96 Ibid., p.217.

97 Ibid., p.212.

98 Ibid., p.186.

99 “ICRC commended Sri Lanka Navy for evacuating Tamil civilians safely

during the war”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Columbo PageƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 21 June 2011, available at


100 Ibid., p.130.

101 Ibid.

102 “Subject: Sri Lanka: S/Wci Amb. WilliamsonƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Geneva Meetings”, US

Government cable, 15 July 2009, available at


103 Weiss, “The Cage”, op. cit., p.109.

104 Ibid., p.111.

105 Ibid., p.125.

106 Ibid.

107 “Report of the Secretary-GeneralƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Panel of Experts on Accountability

in Sri Lanka”, United Nations, New York, 31 March 2011, available at

<>, paragraph


108 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

109 “LTTE propaganda defeated, truth revealed”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Sunday ObserverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

(Columbo), 12 July 2009, available at


110 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, op. cit.

111 Ibid.

112 Weiss, “The Cage”, op. cit., p.101.

113 Ibid., p.96.

114 The Indian government intervened during a Sri Lankan army offensive in

1987, just as the LTTE was on the verge of defeat. Peace negotiations

ensued. See, for example, “India airlifts aid to Tamil rebels”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The New

York TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 5 June 1987.

115 “No ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Humanitarian PauseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”South Asian OutlookƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Volume 8, Number 11,

May 2009, available at



116 “Tamil Tiger propaganda

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” May 13, 2009″, Geopolitical Monitor, 13 May


available at



117 “Sri Lankan Govt. Rebukes Tamil ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Propaganda MachineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Antiwar Forum,

16 May 2009, available at


118 “LTTE urges IC to act in the international way”, TamilNet, 10 May 2009,

available at


119 “LTTE urges IC to save civilians in the name of humanity, SLA attacks

kill 1700 in 48 hours”, TamilNet, 14 May 2009, available at


120 Weiss, op. cit., p.109.

121 Ibid., p.131.

122 “Civilians escape the Tigers. Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s army enters the last redoubt

of the Tamil Tigers”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The EconomistƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 20 April 2009, available at


123 Weiss, op. cit., p.109.

124 “Northern Sri Lanka SitRep 15: Heavy Fighting Continues; UN”, US

Embassy Columbo, 18 February 2009.

125 Weiss, op. cit., p.143.

126 See, for example, “Tamil Tiger Propaganda Photos Becomes Channel 4

Fact”, Lanka Web, 16 July 2011, available at



127 Weiss, op. cit., p.68.

128 Ibid., p.69.

129 For a group of doctors within such an active crisis zone, treating the

numbers of patients they are said to have treated, the doctors in question

spent an incredibly large amount of their time on the telephone to the

international media. It can only but be described as systematic and

orchestrated. For just some examples of these telephone calls, apparently

under duress, see “Sri Lanka accused of shelling ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”safe zoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in north”,

Associated Press, 22 January 2009; “Sri Lankan official says army shelled

hospital”, Associated Press, 1 February 2009; “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”WeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢re still counting the

bodiesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢: UN and Red Cross fury as Sri Lankan hospital is hit by shelling for

THIRD time in 24 hours”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Daily MailƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 2 February 2009, available at



VXxAXXl>; “Nine dead in attack on hospital in Sri Lanka”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 2

February 2009; “Trapped Sri Lankans ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”dying in makeshift hospitalƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Doctors

treating refugees injured in intense fighting plead for evacuations and

medical aid”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The ObserverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 15 February 2009; “Sri Lankan hospital shelled

in Tamil no-fire zone. Doctor says 20 people killed and 300 injured”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The

GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 9 April 2009; “Sri Lanka: ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Civilians are dying, and the hospital

is paralysedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. A doctor in the no-fire zone in Sri Lanka describes how

cluster bomb attacks on a hospital have killed and injured many civilians”,

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 22 April 2009; “Hospital ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hit by Sri Lankan armyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, BBC

News, 2 May 2009, available at

<>; “Sri Lanka denies

shelling hospital. Military accused of killing 67 civilians in northern

conflict zone”, Al-Jazeera, 3 May 2009, available at


“ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Hundreds deadƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ on bloodiest day of Sri Lankan battle to destroy Tamil

Tigers. Doctor says at least 378 people killed in latest assault by Sri

Lankan military”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The ObserverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 10 May 2009; “Sri Lanka health official:

257 civilians killed”, Associated Press, 10 May 2009; “ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”More than 1,000

civilians killedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in attacks on Sri Lanka safe zone”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 11 May

2009; “Hospital reports hundreds dead in Sri Lanka shelling”, Associated

Press, 11 May 2009; “Sri Lanka accused of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”war crimeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ over shelled hospital”

, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Daily TelegraphƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 12 May 2009; “Doctor says 49 killed in Sri Lanka

hospital attack”, Associated Press, 12 May 2009; “Sri Lankans Caught in

Hospital Cross Fire”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”TimeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 12 May 2009, available at

<,8599,1897594,00.html>; “Tamil war

zone hospital hit again”, BBC News, 13 May 2009, available at

<>; “Sri

Lanka war hospital ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hit againƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Al-Jazeera, 13 May 2009, available at


“Makeshift Sri Lanka hospital is shelled, taking 47 lives”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢,

13 May 2009; “More Sri Lanka civilians die in second raid on hospital in

Tamil war zone”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 13 May 2009; “Fifty Die As Sri Lanka Hospital

Shelled Again”, Sky News, 13 May 2009; “Slaughter in Sri Lanka as makeshift

hospital is shelled for second day”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 14 May 2009; “Shelling

kills at least 50 at Sri Lanka hospital, staff says”, Associated Press, 14

May 2009.

130 “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding”, op. cit.

131 Weiss, op. cit., p.143.

132 Ibid., p.135.

133 “Sri Lanka war hospital ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”hit againƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Al-Jazeera, 13 May 2009,

available at


134 Interview with Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press Columbo bureau chief

from 2007-2009, Aired on PBS stations on 18 February 2009, available at


135 “LTTE propaganda defeated, truth revealed”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Sunday ObserverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢

(Columbo), 12 July 2009, available at


136 Weiss, op. cit., p.231. See, also, “S Lanka medics recant on deaths”,

BBC News, 8 July 2009, available at


137 “LTTE propaganda defeated, truth revealed”, op. cit.

138 Ibid.

139 Ibid.

140 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

141 “We exaggerated war deaths, say arrested doctors”, Breaking News

Ireland, 9 July 2009, available at


tors-417975.html>. See, also, for example, “Tamil War Toll was exaggerated”,

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The Daily ExpressƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 9 July 2009, available at


142 “Lies Agreed Upon”, op. cit.

143 “LTTE propaganda defeated, truth revealed”, op. cit.

144 “Does IC know no human dignity of civilians, asks a doctor in Vanni”,

TamilNet, 26 January 2009, available at


145 Weiss, op. cit., p.231.

146 “Sri Lanka says avoiding civilian deaths was ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”impossibleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Reuters, 1

August 2011, available at


147 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, op. cit.

148 Weiss, op. cit., pp. 141-42.

149 “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding”, op. cit.

150 “Northern Sri Lanka SitRep 15: Heavy Fighting Continues; UN”, US

Embassy Columbo, 18 February 2009.

151 “No ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Humanitarian PauseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”South Asian OutlookƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, Volume 8, Number 11,

May 2009, available at



152 Ibid.

153 “Ban denies UN covered up death toll in Sri Lanka”, Reuters, 2 June

2009, available at



154 “6,432 Tamil civilians killed in fighting”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Evening StandardƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 24

April 2009, available at


155 “Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri

Lanka”, US Department of State, Washington-DC, 2009, available at

<>, p.15.

156 “Sri Lanka death toll ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”unacceptably highƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, says UN”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 29

May 2009, available at



157 “UN statement on former spokesman views”, The Office of the UN Resident

Coordinator, Sri Lanka, 15 February 2010, available at


158 “No ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Humanitarian PauseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”South Asian OutlookƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, op. cit.

159 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, op. cit.

160 Ibid.

161 “LTTE propaganda defeated, truth revealed”, op. cit.

162 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, op. cit.

163 “Ban denies UN covered up death toll in Sri Lanka”, op. cit.

164 Robert Mackey, “Sri Lanka Disputes Report of 20,000 Dead”, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The New

York TimesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 29 May 2009, available at



165 “Sri Lanka rejects deaths report”, BBC News, 29 May 2009.

166 “As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”

, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”The GuardianƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, 15 September 2009, available at


167 Weiss, op. cit., p.194.

168 “The Sri Lankan soldiers ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”whose hearts turned to stoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Channel 4

News, 27 July 2011, available at



169 “Sri Lanka says avoiding civilian deaths was ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”impossibleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Reuters, 1

August 2011, available at


170 “Overview of ongoing government efforts to trace and reunify missing

children in Northern Sri Lanka”, UNICEF, July 2011. For a copy of the UNICEF

release see <>.

171 “Sri Lanka says avoiding civilian deaths was ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”impossibleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, op. cit.

172 “Technical Note prepared by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial,

summary or arbitrary executions”, Philip Alston, in relation to the

authenticity of the “Channel 4 videotape”, available at



173 “Sri Lanka execution video ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”appears authenticƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢”, Channel 4 News, 7

January 2010, available at


174 Letter from the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Norway to Mr. Arne Helsingen,

Chief of TV-NRK, Embassy of Sri Lanka, Oslo, 26 September 2011, available at


175 “Missing Parts Of The Story of Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Killing Fields_Part05”,

Channel Sri Lanka, 6 July 2011, available at


176 See, for example, “LTTE: Tamil Eelam Special forces in Action. Uyir

Ampukal”, YouTube, Uploaded by ragukum on 22 January 2008, available at


177 “Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Victims of War”, op. cit.

178 Weiss, op. cit., p.80.

179 Ibid., p.313.

180 See, for example, “Channel 4 Original Video of LTTE Killings (Tamil

Voices)”, YouTube, Uploaded by wiki540123 on 13 September 2009, available at



181 “Exclusive interview with Callum McCrae, Director of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s

Killing FieldsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ produced by Channel 4”, Groundviews, 21 June 2011, available




182 Weiss, op. cit., p.5.

183 Susan Moeller, “Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell, Disease,

Famine, War and Death”, Routledge, New York and London, 1999, p.106-7.

184 It is worth noting that in “Lies Agreed Upon”, the response of the Sri

Lankan government to the Channel 4 programme, all of their contributors were

identified and identifiable.


Notes for editors:-

Sri Lanka Media Watch is a project of Engage Sri Lanka. It was established

to monitor coverage of, and reporting on, Sri Lanka in the international

media. Sri Lanka Media Watch evaluates this coverage against universally

accepted journalistic standards of accuracy and impartiality and, where

necessary, a right to reply.

Engage Sri Lanka was established to make the case for the United Kingdom

engaging more closely with Sri Lanka. Britain has a close historical,

cultural and economic relationship with Sri Lanka and it is important that

we maintain and develop our connection with one of our oldest partners. In

an age of economic uncertainty, British business should make the most of its

reputation in Sri Lanka and expand its involvement in the Sri Lankan

economy. Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s commercial law is based on that of the United Kingdom

and this is coupled with a skilled work force. Britain is already the second

largest market after the United States for Sri Lankan exports. World Bank

figures show that the Sri Lankan economy is growing by 8 percent a year. Sri

Lanka is also a strategic partner for British business in South Asia and a

key point of entry into the rapidly growing Indian market. Sri Lanka has the

highest ranking in the World BankƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Ease of doing businessƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ratings in the

region. The United Kingdom needs to engage as fully and vigorously as

possible with Sri Lanka. British business already faces fierce competition

from China and other countries and so we must challenge any obstacles to our

countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s political and economic relationship with Columbo.


8 Responses to “Appalling Journalism:Jon Snow and Channel 4 on Sri Lanka”

  1. Sirih Says:

    Not sure what is “Engage Sri Lanka Publication Release” clever article to show reverse logic … Editor Pls. remove this.

  2. Ariya Says:

    “Britain has a close historical, cultural and economic relationship with Sri Lanka and it is important that we maintain and develop our connection with one of our oldest partners.” states the author, whoever he/she is.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but Britain and Lanka NEVER had any close relationship of any kind. British were the killers of many Lankan youth, brought in the Christian church, which Lanka does not need, so there is NO need maintain any kind of relationships with Britain.

    Ch4 and Jon Snow is not our problem, so let him croak as much as he can, for he is a British person. What can you expect from a former enemy?

  3. S de Silva Says:

    A big thank you for whoever is responsible (?) for this very comprehensive article, it is an excellent, ‘gold plated’ work. I have only a simple question on this: with all the overwhelming evidence herein against CH4 why is the GoSL reluctant to sue CH4 for libel? (Going to the puppets at Ofcom to complain have served no purpose).
    S de Silva – London

  4. Marco Says:

    S De Silva,
    Think we are covering old ground again.
    For GOSL to succeed in a libel case against CH4, key individuals like Defence Secretary Gota Rajapakse, Palitha Kohana, Armed Forces Chief may or will have to stand in the witness box cross examined by Defence counsel.
    Is the GOSL willing to take that risk?

    The commentator Sirih, may be able to shed some light on contradictory expert witness statements.

    Only in the past 48 hours Ofcom (puppets?) fined a UK based Iranian broadcaster (overseas voice of the Tehran Govt) a record £100,000 for airing an interview with imprisoned journalist Mazair Bahari breaching privacy and fairness rules. (The interview was carried out under duress)
    The Regulator (Ofcom) stopped short of banning the broadcast even though under mounting pressure from the UK Govt (assume the Foreign Office) to do so.

    The Regulators are independent of any political interference unlike countries that you and I are all too familiar with.

  5. Raju Says:

    These “Engage Sri Lanka” people have built a very comprehensive case here (whoever they are though all points to them being a bunch of sycophants). Why do they not carry this forward into a law suit based entirely on media ethics and appalling journalism? This thing is easier to view elsewhere than what has been posted in Lankaweb. Here is the PDF:

    This claim that Channel 4 can summon SL Government officials as “witnesses” is irrelevant since firstly they cannot if the scope of the case is based on journalism/media ethics and even if they do what chance are they going to get to make this possible? Zero. Channel 4 cannot win a case claiming they “lack” of these witnesses. It is Channel 4’s journalism that is in question and being sued (if a case is constructed). What good will these witnesses do in furthering Channel 4’s position? In a court Channel 4’s tricks and deceptions simply won’t work.

  6. S de Silva Says:

    Marco, I believe you have been briefly responded to by Raju above – If the GoSL is telling the TRUTH and represented by competent Barristers, there is no reason to fear in a UK Court (I do NOT mean Ofcom) and SL would very likely succeed. Of course, at the outset, the costs have to be weighed against the eventual gains in compensation for libel by Media Lawyers for SL and the global advantage to the image of SL if a libel case is successful, prior to engaging in litigation. Remember we have already paid sizeable costs to Bell Pottinger the PR firm for ‘Image Building’ of SL. And please also remember a fasting LTTE protester opposite the Parliament here won compensation using a ” No Win No Fee” firm of UK olicitors against a London newspaper for misreporting that the chap was seen surreptitiously munching a Big Mac while on fast !! S de Silva – London

  7. Christie Says:

    Channell four was started by Socialists of UK. Now it is more or less a racing broadcaster. (pl correct me if I am wrong). But it is politically a Socialist channel with a large an audience of migrants , mainly from the Indian subcontinent and around. For whatever reason there are a sizesable Sinhala audience.

    The Channell generally produce most of its programs, but this program was not made by the Channel 4 but was shown by them.

    Where was it made and who was involved behind the scene is not known.

    It may have been made in India with Indian (include Tamils) money.

    But looking at the Western media and its aniti Sinhala and pro Tamil terrorist reporting, Indian Intelligence Service is involved in it.

  8. S de Silva Says:

    Dear Christie, thank you for your views on where this video may have been made. However what concerns us mostly are the contents of this video and who broadcast it, and not so much its place of manufacture! – S de Silva – London

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