Oppression of Tamils exposed in 'Sri Lanka's Killing fields' documentary

One of the most interesting parts of the work I do in the European Parliament is not the committee and plenary meetings, but the opportunity to host meetings in the Parliament that can bring together campaigners from around the world. In the last week, I had the opportunity to co-host a film in the Parliament together with a number of other MEPs from different political groups. This was a showing of the Channel Four documentary, Sri Lanka´s Killing Fields, about the final stages of the brutal war of the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil people. This followed another meeting I hosted in the European Parliament in June of over 100 Tamil people from the diaspora around the world in which the oppression facing the Tamils was discussed in detail.

We were very lucky to have the maker of the documentary, Callum Macrae in attendance to present his film. It is a must see. The 100 people who watched it in the Parliament remained silent after it ended, with no applause. This was not because it was not an excellent film – but because of how powerful it was and the emotional response it elicits. The most moving parts of the film are the film footage from the warzone – in particular the brutally graphic scenes shot by Sri Lankan soldiers on mobile phones of them laughing and joking while executing unarmed Tamil prisoners. Equally shocking and disturbing are the shots of soldiers giving sexist comments while loading dead, naked and most likely raped female bodies on trucks.

Callum Macrae explained how all the footage that has been used in the documentary was carefully analysed to guarantee authenticity.

The horrors committed by the Sri Lankan army against the Tamil people in particular are graphically displayed. Above all though, through the images of the individual horrors, the film builds the description of the deliberate and conscious attempt to maximise civilian casualties by the Sri Lankan army. In the last period of the war, civilians were hemmed into a smaller and smaller so-called "no-fire zone", which was then brutally bombarded by the army. The film documents the conscious targeting of hospitals by bombardment, with the shelling of these hospitals (a war crime if done deliberately) captured on camera.

It is estimated by the UN Panel which reported in September that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the course of the war. The figure could even be even higher than that. This stands as a stark condemnation of the government of Sri Lanka.

One of the points I made at the meeting is that unfortunately this oppression is not over. In the aftermath of the war, the dictatorial government of President Rajapakse, has increased the repression, directed against all potential opposition forces in Sri Lanka. An effective military occupation operates in the north and east of the country (where most of the Tamil speaking people are based). Up to a hundred thousand Tamils are still in "rehabilitation centres", in reality open air camps. Many of these have not been charged with anything, yet remain in detention.

The increased powers of the government are used not just against the Tamil speaking people but also against others who oppose the government's policies. Workers fighting for their rights in the Free Trade Zones have also faced brutal repression as have trade unionists and socialists across the country.

The response of the government to this situation was illustrated by the attitude of the Sri Lankan ambassador who attended the hearing. He repeated the smears against the film that have been publicised by the Sri Lankan government – claiming that the footage is fabricated and suggesting that the film is an apologia for the Tamil Tigers (when in fact the behaviour of the Tamil Tigers is rightly condemned in the film).

Instead, the government tries to paint a picture of a country that is now in post-conflict phase and that needs to move on. In particular, the government emphasises the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which is a body designed to whitewash the government. It is due to report in the next month and its report will in all likelihood minimise the number of civilian casualties and place all of the blame for the conflict at the door of the Tamil Tigers.

Of course, this conflict and war-crimes have not just come out of nowhere. They are part of decades of oppression of the Tamil speaking minority. It was this oppression that provided the basis for the growth of the Tamil Tigers, an organisation based on the tactics of individual terror and which also was involved in the oppression of the Muslim Tamil-speaking minority and those Tamils who did not agree with their tactics and strategy. But despite the defeat of the Tigers, the oppression continues.

The fact that the government of Sri Lanka is not interested in a genuine process of "reconciliation" is shown by the arrogant remarks of the president's younger brother, Gotabhaya, wielder of enormous power within the regime's ruling apparatus who declared on 11 August 2011 that there is no need to give the Tamil people of the North anything beyond the current (ineffective) devolution of powers. Furthermore, on India's "Headline Today" television show and panel discussion Gotabhaya said: "Terrorism has been defeated, and therefore there is no need to talk about a political solution. Whatever solution is possible, it absolutely has to be under the existing constitution".

One of the key demands I have raised in the Parliament and elsewhere is the need for an independent impartial and international inquiry into the events at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. In order to be truly independent, such an inquiry would need to have the character of a "people's tribunal" with representatives of working people from both the Sinhala and Tamil speaking peoples in Sri Lanka, as well as representatives of international human rights activists and trade unionists.

Fundamentally, the right-wing government which whips up Sinhala chauvinism and crushes democratic rights must be replaced. A government based on Sinhala and Tamil- speaking working people and small farmers could use the resources in Sri Lankan society to the benefit of all. Such a government could end the oppression of the Tamil people and grant full democratic rights, with rights for all minorities, up to and including the right to self-determination for the Tamil people.

Photo above: uktamilnews

Watch the full documentary on the Channel 4 website here or on YouTube here. Below, UN officials in Geneva are presented with the documentary.