Chennai: Even as Sri Lanka’s jumbo delegation continues its heavy lobbying in Geneva ahead of a US resolution against the country at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this week, a new footage showing the summary execution of the 12-year-old son of slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is likely to bring fresh pressure on the island nation.
The footage is part of a new Channel 4 documentary titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpublished to be aired this Wednesday. It will provide additional evidence of alleged human rights violations, including summary executions, by the Sri Lankan army during the final phase of its war against the LTTE.
The earlier part of the film, broadcast a year ago, carried chilling footage of large-scale shelling of civilians and human rights violations that led to instant damning of the country.
In an article published in the Independent yesterday, Callum Macrae, the British journalist-filmmaker who made both the documentaries, describes the scene involving Prabhakaran’s son vividly:
“A 12-year-old boy lies on the ground. He is stripped to the waist and has five neat bullet holes in his chest. His name is Balachandran Prabakaran and he is the son of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has been executed in cold blood. Beside him lie the bodies of five men, believed to be his bodyguards. There are strips of cloth on the ground indicating that they were tied and blindfolded before they were shot – further evidence suggesting that the Sri Lankan government forces had a systematic policy of executing many surrendering or captured LTTE fighters and leading figures, even if they were children.”
Besides the footage, Macrae has obtained high-resolution pictures of the boy with bullet wounds, which were analysed by a forensic pathologist Prof. Derrick Pounder. Quoting Prof. Pounder, Macrae says: “It is possible that the boy may have been made to watch the execution of his bound and blindfolded guards before the gun was turned on him.”
On the forensic analysis, he continues, quoting Prof. Pounder: “There is a speckling from propellant tattooing, indicating that the distance of the muzzle of the weapon to this boy’s chest was two to three feet or less. He could have reached out with his hand and touched the gun that killed him.”
Remarkably chilling words there.
The film will also show further evidence that the Sri Lankan government prevented humanitarian assistance to the civilians trapped in the “grotesquely misnamed no-fire zones.”
The new evidence comes in the wake of serious assertions by members of the Sri Lankan delegation that the the US resolution is an infringement on the sovereignty of the country. Camping in Geneva, they claim to have obtained the support of China, Pakistan, Russia, OIC and African countries and non-aligned member states.
Sri Lanka’s special envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe, who will address the resolution at the UNHRC, has reportedly said his country had enough support from member states to defeat the resolution. The country’s position is that its domestic mechanism is capable of addressing the issues, and hence international interference should not be encouraged.
The draft resolution by the US, submitted to the Council on Wednesday last, calls on the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Sri Lankan government to look into alleged rights violations. But LLRC was seen as a ploy to prevent international scrutiny.
The resolution also calls for all necessary steps to fulfill Sri Lanka’s relevant obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. In addition, it asks for a comprehensive action plan on the steps that the government has taken, and will take, to implement LLRC recommendations, and to address alleged violations of international law.
While acknowledging the “constructive recommendations” of the LLRC, the resolution notes with concern that the report doesn’t address serious allegations of violations of international humanitarian law. If the resolution is passed, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will be asked to intervene to implement the steps.
Dismissing international pressure in the face of mounting evidence of human rights violations, Sri Lanka always maintained that the evidence was fabricated and if at all there were some incidents, the country was competent enough to handle it. The country, speaking in a single voice except the Tamils, including through its proxies, decried that the West was immorally interfering in its internal matters.
In the midst of all this, the most disturbing ambiguity was that of India, which never condemned Sri Lanka for its alleged excesses, but opted to focus on the softer humanitarian and political dimensions. Such a stand has irked the political parties in Tamil Nadu where it has a certain emotional appeal.
The new film will definitely raise the protest pitch in Tamil Nadu. Although the sympathy for LTTE has always been limited to a few provincial outfits, the people of the state and the political parties are unequivocal in their stand on the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the killing of civilians.
All the political parties, including the local unit of the Congress, have asked the centre to support the US resolution. Jayalalithaa, a staunch critic of the LTTE, but a stronger votary of Tamil rights in Sri Lanka, has led the chorus and even gone a step ahead, asking the Centre not to send any Lankan VIP to the state without consulting her.
Despite the outcry and the unanimous demand from the entire political class from Tamil Nadu, the Centre hasn’t made its stand regarding the US resolution clear. SM Krishna’s words on the issue were not categorical when he said: “Certainly we will take into account the overall relationship between India and Sri Lanka and the sentiments that are prevalent in our country (Tamil Nadu). We will take every factor into consideration before we take a final call on our stand in Geneva.”
Krishna’s words betray India’s diplomatic predicament vis-a-vis Sri Lanka and its geopolitical strategy in the region. The China-Pakistan-Russia axis that the island nation brags about to sail through in international forums is a nagging thorn in the flesh. The presence of China and Pakistan in Sri Lanka are too strong to ignore and India doesn’t want to lose out on whatever influence it has on the island. Sri Lanka knows India’s weakness well and has been playing ping-pong with it quite a while now. Even during the height of the war, India’s criticism of Sri Lankan excesses were, at best, muted.
Even if India abstains, it will be seen as yet another instance of the Centre’s indifference to the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu. The parties in Tamil Nadu will get a new handle to attack the Congress for betraying the interests of Tamils.
Interestingly, the recommendations that the US resolution wants implemented, are not external prescriptions, but have been suggested by Sri Lanka’s handmaiden, the LLRC. The LLRC recommends the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances besides demilitarising the North and implementing impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms.
It also calls for strengthening of formerly independent civil institutions, re-evaluate detention policies, reach a political settlement involving devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms.
These recommendations are not radical and will be only be in Sri Lanka’s interest, to clear its name of the alleged excesses. Fixing accountability and taking reparative steps will serve its image better than the majoritarian jingoistic shrills that one gets to hear from the country whenever the “T” and “HR” words are mentioned.