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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sri Lanka: Crimes de guerre, Colombo pointé du doigt par l’ONU

by Dominique Bari

Sri Lanka: Colombo Indicted for War Crimes by UNO

Video genuine, says UN representative

Translated Sunday 17 January 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Derek Hanson

The video shot in May 2009 showing the summary execution of prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers is genuine, a UN representative declared, after it had been scanned by independent experts. A group of blindfolded men kneeling near a field already strewn with corpses: the prisoners are coldly shot one by one in the head by individuals wearing uniforms of the Sri Lankan army. These executions are shown on a video document broadcast on August 25, 2009 by Channel Four in Great Britain. It is supposed to have been shot with a cell phone by a Sri Lankan soldier present on the spot.

Faked or genuine?

A fierce controversy has flared up about the terrible pictures that incriminate Colombo’s governmental forces shortly after their victory over the Tamul rebels. The controversy now takes a dramatic turn after the video was declared genuine by Phlip Alston, appointed in 2004 special reporter for the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly on extrajudiciary, summary, or arbitrary executions. It is supposed to have been shot in May 2009, at the end of the army’s operation against the Tamul LTTE rebels [1], among whom were the victims.

"The document has been scanned by three independent experts whose competence is incontestable," Philip Alston declared. According to him, their analyses give the lie to those previsouly carried out by a Sri Lankan team, two members of which were in the army. Colombo’s conclusion then had been that since it was a fake, an investigation was unjustified. Against this, the UN reporter declared that an inquest is necessary to determine if this video constitutes a proof of "war crimes and other serious breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights commmitted in Sri Lanka." The Sri Lankan government has accused the UN of leading a crusade in order to have it summoned before war tribunals.

ON May 18, after a five-month offensive, the army had conquered the last pocket held by the Tigers in the north-eastern sector of the island, killing all guerilla leaders, among whom its chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. The UN put at 7,000 the number of civilians that had died since January in the war zone where the Sri Lankan army had launched the offensive. On the field, the Red-Cross had described "an unimaginable humanitarian disaster" with hundreds of thousands of displaced people fleeing the fighting and bombing. Nearly 300,000 civilians, most of them of the Tamul minority, had been detained in camps where they barely survived in apalling conditions. At the end of October, the UN high commissioner for human rights estimated that the allegations of atrocity committed during the civil war - which Colombo has always denied - were enough to justify the setting up of an independent fact-finding mission.

The minister for defense incriminated

Last May, the Sri Lankan government had nevertheless succeeded in avoiding a UN conviction. But new charges against it came up in November when the former commander in chief and conqueror of the Tigers and current presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka asserted that the army had been ordered by the minister for Defence to execute the guerilla leaders as soon as they surrendered. According to him Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the minister, and brother of the current president, had given instructions to commanders on the field to take no prisoners in the days that preceded the rout of the Tamul separatists and their surrender in May.

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