War crimes: caught on camera?

Jon Snow says it is “one of the most important” stories he has ever reported.

It may not be on TV until 11.05 pm, yet the screening tonight of Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (trailer here) has not exactly gone unnoticed.

The programme was shown to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of May. A UN special envoy has already said the execution videos featured appear to show evidence of “serious international crimes”. Amnesty International has called for an independent international investigation into the extent of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The film features footage, captured on a mobile phone camera, apparently of some of the atrocities committed in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war, in May 2009.

Jon Snow takes up the story:

It tells the story of the bloody end to Sri Lanka’s civil war – in which at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed. I have reported civil wars before, not least in Central America in the 1980s but I have never seen such graphic evidence, often at the hands of government soldiers themselves of what have all the hallmarks of war crimes.

The film is important in that it represents one of the most shocking films ever screened on Channel 4. It has to be so, there are accusations of war crimes by both sides.

This film is also vastly important because, it represents the conclusion of two years’ worth of courageous journalism by the Channel 4 News team in the face of great adversity including repeated challenges to our integrity by the Sri Lankan authorities.

It forms a vital part of the evidence of alleged war crimes – crimes, allegations which the UN itself has called ‘credible’.

I’ll be watching.

If you do too, let me know what you think.

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  • Icarus

    The programme isn’t even over and I’ve had to stop watching. Probably the most upsetting and horrific footage I’ve ever seen.

  • samkingston

    I cannot believe that this has been allowed to happen. That human beings can actually behave in this manner toward each other. We live in a sick sick world. Unfortunately we need shocking footage like this to be shown, in order to shock people into action.

  • Mark

    That was horrific . The sound of the dead bodies been thrown against the back of the pickup and the Govt soldiers commenting on which corpse had the best figure . When one soldier said he ” would love to cut off her tits ” you realised these guys were savages … but I suppose most civil wars are .

    It will be interesting to see what kind of exposure this programme will receive .

  • nightrider

    Al Jazeera (English) shows the brutality of war very clearly. Not for family teatime consumption. But this wasn’t the middle east. This shows ‘soldiers’ of a third world militia, executing people of another tribe. They aren’t soldiers, they’re executioners (pira type pseudo soldiers) doing what they are told. The pleasure in killing others fits the SF/PIRA mindset completely. Ourselves Alone. Kill the outsiders, but be careful to say it’s nothing to do with their religion.

  • Hopping The Border

    Absolutely horrific viewing.

    Apparently Minister Burt has rushed out some statement or other to placate the masses until the humdrum dies down.

    Hopefully it doesn’t.

    Nightrider – I find it disgusting your trying to make an regional political point out of the scenes in the programme.

  • tacapall

    Nightrider is this any better than what the iRA did –


    and the after effects of being bombarded with Depelted Uranium


    Now thats real victims. the british and unionist version of acceptable actions in the interests their country.

  • Icarus


    I’m sure you would say the same of loyalist terrorists?

    Nevertheless I think it a bit distasteful of you to start talking about another unrelated topic on this thread, there is a whole world outside of Northern Ireland believe it or not.

  • Mark

    nightrider ,

    Patrick asked for opinions on the contents of this thread . There a plenty of others where you can go and wax lyrical abour SF…..

  • jonno99


    “They aren’t soldiers, they’re executioners doing what they are told”

    Your regrets over Bloody Sunday are duly noted but this thread is about Sri Lanka

  • As Icarus has already noted, the carnage shown in the programme is upsetting and horrific. Indeed, it’s truly stomach-churning.

    It amounts to credible evidence of war crimes:

    • mobile phone footage of point-blank extrajudicial executions of three people, including a woman.
    • mobile phone footage of dead Tamil Tigers, including women, that suggests sexual abuse.
    • video testimony of a Tamil woman who says she and her daughter were gang-raped by Sri Lankan Army soldiers.
    • evidence and testimony that the Sri Lankan Army systematically and knowingly bombed hospitals and civilians, with the oversight of senior military and government officials.

    The Sri Lankan government can no longer be allowed to get away with bluster and denials and the ‘international community’ cannot let it do so.

    The UN must swiftly establish an independent international investigation and should receive the support of member states to do so. If the UN Security Council can authorise military action in Libya, then surely it can get its act together to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka and move to hold those accountable for any breaches of international law.

    And a note of thanks to Channel 4 News and Dispatches for doggedly following this story for the last two years. Two weeks ago, I was in London to see the same team responsible for this programme pick up an Amnesty International Media Award for an earlier investigation of potential war crimes in Sri Lanka. It was richly deserved.

    Is there a better television news producer – especially for serious, courageous, foreign coverage – in the UK? I think not.

    For those who missed it, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields will shortly be available for seven days via 4 on Demand.

  • qwerty12345

    A friend called with me not long after the show started and as it
    got worse I decided I couldnt put them through it. Will watch on 4od asap. Dreadful stuff.

    As for Nightriders intervention possibly the most tasteless troll / mope outburst I’ve ever seen on here. Disgraceful.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    Did anyone actually believe that the Tamil Tigers were or could be defeated without such tactics?

    Surely the total victory of the Sri Lankan army suggested that total war tactics were employed?

    Not condoning anything here.

    But when the Sri Lankan government decided to defeat the Tigers they released the unmuzzled dogs of wars.

    Killing, rape etc – thats what they do.

  • I wil be interesting to see what (if anything) will be done about the horrific genocide. The UN worker describing how they (the UN) pulled out before the final assault on the Tamils was moving. The footage shown was horrific to say the least.
    Fair play to C4 for showing the footage as it needs to be seen by as many people as possible however uncomfortable it may make people feel.
    Easily the most visceral tv programme i have seen in a long time.
    I feel guilty that i didn’t ask any questions of the Sri Lankan UN soldiers i went on patrol with in Port-au-Prince.

  • al

    I saw it as simply ethnic cleansing. The soldiers didn’t care if the people they were killing were combatants or civilians. It seems that as far as they were concerned they were getting rid of as many Tamil people as they could. Remove the tumour and hopefully it won’t grow back to put it bluntly. There has to be some seriously deep hatred in those soldiers for them to do and say what they did in the mobile phone videos.

    The world is interested in money and markets not genocides in redundant nations in Asia, Africa or wherever. Hopefully all those who were murdered get some justice but I doubt it.

  • qwerty12345

    Just saw the show. Good god.

    As damning an indictment of the “international community” as I have ever seen. Forgive my language – but after seeing the footage of Ban Ki Moons trip to one of the Tamil holding centres after the war all I can say is – The UN is a fucking disgrace.

  • Icarus

    What angers me is that the UN has been in this exact type of situation before.

    The UN explicitly declared its reaction to Rwanda a “failure” in the year 2000. Secretary General Kofi Annan at the time stated that the “international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret”.

    Absolutely disgraceful.

  • Brian

    The war had gone on for decades with massive death. This may have been the only way to end it and finally wipe out the Tigers.

  • fordprefect

    Brian, do you agree with what they did to both Tigers and civillians? The so called “UN” should change its name to the US! The “UN”, Ban Ky Moon and the ICC are all useless pieces of shit!

  • qwerty12345

    I wonder were the Sinhalese allowed away with it after allegations that the Tigers had trained Islamist groups like MILF or Abu Sayaf from the Phillipines.

    Mind you, you have to wonder at the veracity of such claims considering the Tigers were responsible for the expulsion of muslims from several areas of northern Sri Lanka.

    Brian – wars arent ended by shelling hospitals, rape, mutilation and summary execution – or by putting entire civilian populations under military rule and denying them even their most basic human rights.

    I’d wager that the Sinhalese have won short term but the problem wont go away. Give it a few years there will be plenty more bombs in Colombo.

  • cailleachdearg

    “wipe out the tigers” ? seriously ?
    the murder of tens of thousands of unarmed civilians, the rape and butcher of young girls, executions, actions that border on genocide…idiot

  • nightrider

    Go to the Kingsmills thread to see a local version of what happened here.