GENEVA/NEW DELHI – The Sri Lankan military committed numerous war crimes during the final months of the country’s 26-year-long civil war, according to a documentary aired for the first time Friday, amid vigorous protests from Colombo.
However, in an interview published Saturday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa firmly denied the allegations made in the documentary and also denied that government troops executed the 12-year-old son of separatist chief Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2009.
Rajapaksa told India’s Hindu newspaper in the interview: “Had it happened, I would have known (it). It is obvious that if somebody (from the armed forces) had done that, I must take responsibility. We completely deny it. It can’t be.”
Using graphic video and pictures taken both by retreating Tamil Tiger rebels, civilians and victorious Sri Lankan troops, “No Fire Zone — The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” presents a chilling picture of the final 138 days of the conflict that ended in May 2009.
Filmmaker Callum Macrae insisted before the screening that the film at U.N. headquarters in Geneva that it should be seen as “evidence” of the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed by Sri Lankan government troops.
“The real truth is coming out,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, strongly protested the screening of the film on the sidelines of the ongoing U.N. Human Rights Council meeting.
He described it as “part of a cynical, concerted and orchestrated campaign” to influence the debate in the council about his country.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which hosted the screening, are calling for the council to order an international probe.
They charge that Sri Lanka’s domestic Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has glossed over the military’s role.
The film, for instance, alleges that a “no-fire zone” set up by the government in January 2009 basically functioned as a trap for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who flooded into it in hopes of finding safety.
The area was heavily shelled, and in the film maimed and bloodied bodies, of men, women and children could be seen strewn around.
Peter MacKay, a U.N. worker who was trapped inside the zone for two weeks, questioned in the film why the government would set up the “no-fire zone” within range of all of their artillery.
“Either you don’t care if you kill the people in that safe zone or you are actively targeting them,” he said, adding that he believed the latter was true.
He and others describe how aid centers and makeshift hospitals were shelled soon after U.N. or Red Cross workers informed the government of their coordinates, which is ironically standard practice to ensure that such places are spared in bombing campaigns.
The footage provided by the retreating Tamil Tigers and civilians is devastating, showing parents wailing over their dying and dead children, but the images provided by the government forces are perhaps even more shocking.
Video of a Tamil commander first being interrogated, and then a picture of his mutilated body in the dirt; naked and bound prisoners coldly executed; dead, naked women, who have clearly been sexually abused filmed amid degrading comments by onlooking soldiers.
And then there is footage of Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran’s son, Balachandran, whose body is seen with five bullet holes in his chest.
He was not caught in cross-fire: a separate video shot two hours earlier shows him in military custody eating a cookie.
The Sri Lankan government has cast doubt on the authenticity of the footage, with Aryasinha insisting Friday it was of “dubious origin.”
Macrae, however, insisted that all the footage had been carefully checked and analyzed to ensure none of it had been tampered with.
“All of it is, I’m afraid, genuine,” he said.
Rights groups say up to 40,000 civilians were killed by security forces in the final months of the no-holds-barred offensive in 2009 that ended Colombo’s years-long war with Tamil separatists.