Video footage purportedly showing Sri Lankan troops executing bound and naked Tamil dissidents in the closing days of the country’s civil war has been described as authentic by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns.
The video was obtained in 2009 by the UK’s Channel 4 news network and aired in August that year. Heyns’ predecessor Philip Alston declared in January 2010 that “extracts” were genuine.
Heyns obtained and analysed a longer version of the video in consultation with a forensic pathologist, firearms expert and two forensic video analysts, and this week concluded that the footage was authentic.
The Sri Lankan government has maintained that the video is fake.
“What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes,” Heyns told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“I conclude on the basis of the extensive technical evidence we obtained from independent experts that what is depicted in the video indeed happened. I believe that a prima facie case of serious international crimes has been made.”
The Sri Lankan government has been under international pressure to submit to a war crimes investigation after a UN report published in April found “credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Head of the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN Human Rights Council, Minister of Plantation Industries, Mahinda Samarasinghe, argued that the UN was usurping Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
“It is disconcerting to note the haste with which some have sought to usurp the government of Sri Lanka’s prerogative in deciding its domestic process,” Samarasinghe told the Council.
“We firmly believe that our home-grown process is capable of addressing the nuances of our unique situation.”
An international war crimes investigation can only be conducted on the invitation of the host government, or by the mandate of a UN body such as the UN Human Rights Council – on which the Maldives, Sri Lanka’s neighbour, ally and historical trading partner, sits.
During a recent press conference in Colombo, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem described the UN’s report into the country’s civil war as “singularly counterproductive.”
“The focus should now be on how the country can move forward,” Naseem said. “As a responsible member of the Human Rights Council, the Maldives believes it is imperative that the international community closely examine all aspects of the report before taking any further action.”
Upon the release of the report, President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News in April that the release of the UN’s document was belated.
“Why say it now? Why not when the war was going on? My point is that this report only appeared after the war was over. We support the Sri Lankan government’s desire for peace and harmony, and any government that brought about that peace should be held in high honour.”
Meanwhile, the Maldives Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, on Monday addressed the Human Rights Council by “welcoming recent global events which have promoted accountability and justice.”
It was, she said, “a momentous time for human rights around the world – a time for accountability for past crimes, and a time of hope for new beginnings.”
“The flight of former President Ben Ali from Tunisia, the arrest and prosecution of former President Mubarak and his associates in Egypt, the arrest of former President Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire, the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the recent capture of Rtako Mladic in Serbia all send out a powerful message to those who believe they can violate human rights with impunity,” Ambassador Adam said.
She expressed concern that, in some countries, “governments have chosen to use fear, intimidation, and state-sponsored violence to subdue protests – a response which not only violates international human rights law but one which is also doomed to failure.
“The more those governments try to tighten their control, the less control they will in fact have. The Maldives today renews its call for these governments to immediately stop using force, to listen to their people, and to begin genuine programmes of democratic and human rights reforms.
“In our globalised, inter-dependent world, those who would trample human rights, deny basic freedoms, and kill in the name of power or greed will ultimately be held accountable.
“No matter how high their walls, those who violate human rights will be brought to justice. These welcome developments across different continents are not only important as signals that impunity is, in the end, illusory; they are also important in that, by dealing with the past, by securing accountability and redress, the countries concerned are laying the foundations for a better future.”
Warning: some readers may find the following footage disturbing