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The pictures do not lie
The photos and videos from the Lankan army's final offensive against the LTTE have turned the spotlight back on war crimes committed by Lankan forces
It was the final surge in Sri Lanka's 25-year-old conflict with one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had sworn, on his landslide mandate, to crush Vellupalli Prabhakaran and his army of suicide warriors.
It was the standoff to a campaign he started in 2006. Boxed in, with all supply lines cut off, it was only a matter of time before the terrorist was apprehended and charged for his crimes.
Rajapaksa, having "convinced" the international community of a bloodless offensive, had his ground covered. After evacuating journalists and UN missions, the Lankan government created three no-fire zones in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. These were fortified areas where fleeing Tamils could seek cover from the final assault. It was a huge exodus - more than 60, 000 war-ravaged, unsuspecting Tamils scurried with their children and elders to what later came to be described as the "killing fields".
They ran with their backs to the Indian Ocean and into heavy artillery, their dreams of peace met by one of the biggest war crimes the subcontinent has ever witnessed. But Rajapaksa's war without witnesses did have survivors and some of them emerged with proof that has left the world shocked by Lanka's brutality.
The pictures and video compiled by Callum Macrae are one such piece of evidence. His documentary "No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka" and its sequel "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields 2 - Unpunished War Crimes" have now put the spotlight back on the war crimes committed by the Lankan forces.
A filmmaker for 20 years in the UK and around the world, Macrae has been in some of the world's worst hotspots. But what he witnessed in Lanka overwhelmed his nightmarish experiences in Cote D'Ivoire, Uganda, Mali, and Sudan. "It's important to remember that the crimes we are talking about are not just the executions of prisoners and the use of sexual violence against fighters. We are talking about the deliberate targeting of civilians in no-fire zones the government had itself created, " says the Scottish Bafta Special Achievement Award recipient.
The latest pictures released by Macrae show the LTTE chief's 12-year-old son Balachandran alive and under the supervision of Lankan troops. He is then shot from close range, before four more bullets are pumped into his body. The pictures add credence to the claims of rights violations during the final offensive. Lankan forces had earlier claimed Balachandran had been killed in crossfire between army troops and the LTTE.
Professor Derrick Pounder, a forensic pathologist who analysed the pictures using metadata, has confirmed the boy was killed only two hours after the pictures of him eating biscuits were taken. "The new photographs of Balachandran alive are not just distressing and disturbing - they are enormously important evidence-wise because they appear to rule out any suggestion that he was killed in crossfire or during battle, or even that he was executed by some maverick band of paramilitaries. The boy was executed in cold blood. It is difficult to imagine the psychology of an army in which the calculated execution of a child can be allowed to happen with apparent impunity. That these events were also photographed, videotaped and kept as war trophies by the perpetrators is even more disturbing, " says Macrae.
Though Lankan envoy to India, Prasad Kariyawasam, was prompt in rubbishing the video as morphed, few are convinced by his argument.
Gordon Weiss, who was the UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka during the final Sinhala-Tamil standoff and is currently with the International Crimes Evidence Project in Sydney, backs Macrae's view. "The evidence of war crimes is overwhelming;any attempt by the Lankan government to run down evidence proves the great energy that lies behind the regime's propaganda efforts. But these efforts are futile in the face of the evidence that keeps popping up. No rational person would look at the body of evidence and not see that the evidence of each crime seems to support the evidence of collective crimes, " says Weiss.
The UN Secretary Panel of Experts Report and the UN's own internal inquiry, the so-called Petrie Report, had found evidence of war crimes overwhelmingly persuasive. "Only a credible internationallyconstituted judicial inquiry will settle the issue once and for all. It will also be the first step on the road to a meaningful reconciliation between the island's majority and its minorities, " adds Weiss.
Peter Mckay, a UNOPS staffer who was trapped in the no-fire zone, says, "There's a crucial point to be made about why the Sri Lankan government declared the no-fire zone within the effective range of all the weaponry being used by the military. "
With the US declaring that it will table another resolution on human rights violations in Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in early March, Colombo is now looking to Beijing for support. With India's stand on Lankan affairs still ambivalent, New Delhi's move is likely to be decided by what transpires between the Centre and Dravidian politicians.
"The Lankan government is exhausting the socalled China card, having completely misunderstood the reputational cost of supporting Colombo, which forms part of China's calculations, " says Weiss.
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