Evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka

BRITAIN’S Channel 4 television screened a remarkable programme on Tuesday, the 14th of June, one that nobody would expect to see in a Western country.

Graphic evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military and the militant group, the Tamil Tigers, during the war that led to the elimination of the Tigers in 2008-09, was screened from 11.05pm in a programme titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The programme is not for the squeamish or those who cannot bear to see what actually happens in a war. This was a war fought between sides which were not equal – as the programme shows the military had heavy hardware and was prepared to use it. All Tamils were treated as terrorists and they were fair game. Indeed, the military gathered them together in so-called no-fire zones and then killed them.

Hospitals were shelled despite the fact that their coordinates had been provided to both sides of the conflict by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Children, old women, the feeble, the sick, pregnant women, aged men – they all served as cannon fodder for the bloodthirsty Sri Lankan military.

The government had given the military carte blanche as far as the war was concerned; they did not have go fight with one arm tied behind them. This led, in the end, to soldiers killing civilians in cold blood and collecting video footage as grotesque war souvenirs. Women were raped and then killed. Half-dead corpses were thrown around like sacks of potatoes.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon visited some of the government camps where those Tamil civilians who survived were interned. He stayed a few minutes and then moved on. In April, the UN produced a damning report wherein it cited plenty of evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the government and the Tigers. Ban Ki-moon has refused to act on that report – he says he has no authority to do so. Doubtless, he is also conscious of the fact that with the end of his term looming, his chances of re-election will depend on having China on-side. Beijing has been Sri Lanka’s ally during the war and after; weapons were supplied to Colombo and in return a $2 billion contract to build a port and naval base in the Hambantota district, from where the president, Mahinda Rajapakse hails, went China’s way.

China, of course, is not the only country to help Sri Lanka in this manner. Israel supplied Kfir fighter jets and India provided intelligence to help Colombo destroy Tiger re-supply craft which were being used to replenish the militants’ weapons stocks. In their time of need, the Tigers found no country willing to help.

Now it remains to be seen whether there will be any action by the so-called international community. My guess is that nothing will happen. The US has shown no interest in speaking out about the atrocities and if it stays silent, every other country will hold its peace.

But unless justice is seen to be done, the situation will continue to simmer. Tamils will leave Sri Lanka in increasing numbers but there will be anger and hurt in the community which will resurface some time or the other. By going after the Tigers and ending the 26-year insurrection, the Sri Lankan government has, metaphorically speaking, sown the wind. They may well end up reaping the whirlwind.