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Channel 4's "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields" screened at the European Parliament

By Sarah Lucas
Posted Oct 12, 2011 in World
Today I went to a screening of the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields at the European Parliament in Brussels.
The film presents photographic and video footage of war crimes that took place in 2009, in the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Much of the harrowing video footage was shot on mobile phones. Paul Murphy, Socialist Party and United Left Alliance MEP for Dublin, described the crimes as “systematic, conscious massacres of tens of thousands of Sri Lanka’s civilians”.
After the screening, representatives from the three NGOs responsible for organizing the event - International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch - gave presentations. They were agreed that there is compelling evidence, coming from years of research undertaken in Sri Lanka, of serious human rights violations, both on the part of the government and the LTT.
The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the EU then took the floor to offer a full-scale denial of the documentary’s allegations. The Sri Lankan government had already released a rebuttal to the documentary, Lies Agreed Upon, which claims the Channel 4 documentary footage is fake.
“I would like to start by saying”, he opened, “that this presentation was not organized by an official EU body, and so does not reflect an EU view”.
He went on: “This film presents dubious footage and makes unsubstantiated allegations against the government of Sri Lanka”.
He accused the European Parliament and participating NGOs of having an agenda. “Filmmakers and NGOs have vested interests. They are beholden to Tamil expatriates who have become banks and pressure groups. The motive of the filmmakers is to discredit Sri Lanka”.
The denials and counter-accusations of Ambassador Aryasinha, which he stated without supporting evidence, sharply contradicted what the audience had just seen in the documentary, and were met by visibly disapproving faces around the conference room.
Ana Gomes, the MEP who hosted the event, was quick to remind Aryasinha that the EU has officially joined the UN in acknowledging war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government. The EU supported the findings of the UN Secretary-General Panel of Experts, and recommended an independent process to address the serious allegations.
When it was his turn to speak, Callum Macrae,the documentary’s director, hit back at accusations that the filmmakers had been pursuing an agenda. “This accusation we were working to some subterranean agenda – that we’re LTT apologists – took me by surprise. We showed the LTT committing war crimes. It was actually government footage and we could have said that, but we just said “this is footage..”. The accusation that we’re apologists would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic”.
Geoffrey Van Orden, an MEP and member of Friends of Sri Lanka, followed with a surprising speech seemingly in support of the Sri Lankan government. He said that the worst crimes were committed by Tamil terrorists. He accused those who criticize the Sri Lankan government of preventing reconciliation in the country. He sent the message to Tamil expatriates to “get off the backs of your people”.
Callum Macrae responded by saying that LTT crimes are not in dispute. But he made the further point: “The LTT conducted a brutal war. But one side’s crimes do not justify the other’s”. The conference room broke into applause (which Geoffrey Van Orden didn’t hear, having walked out in the middle of Macrae’s response).

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