Updated Wed Sep 2, 2009 9:06pm AEST
The UN’s Special Representative on Extra-judicial Executions has called for an investigation into a video which appears to show Sri Lankan troops shooting blind folded Tamil prisoners. The footage, filmed on a mobile phone camera, was provided to British media by a group called Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. It appears to show two men being shot in the back of the head, and six other men apparently dead nearby – all bound, blindfolded and most of them naked. But a spokesman for the Sri Lankan army says the video is a fake.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Philip Alston, United Nation’s special representative on extra judicial executions, New York
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ALSTON: Well, there is always a doubt about these things. It’s important to take over the starting point, the proposition that the video is first of all horrendous in terms of its content. Secondly, would clearly show violations of international law and obligations if it was accurate and thirdly, that the responsibility is on the government of Sri Lanka to demonstrate that a video of this quality and this apparent authenticity is in fact a fake. It is certainly not getting us anywhere to simply dismiss it out of hand. There is a clear onus on the government to demonstrate the validity of their claim.
COCHRANE: This video appears to show eight men who have been killed, if it is authentic. Are there reports of other killings like this that have occurred in this final attack on the Tamil Tigers earlier this year?
ALSTON: Well, we have to bare in mind that the Sri Lankan government imposed a comprehensive press and other blackout on the entire war area, so there were no immediate reports. There were very few reports from any other sources. Nonetheless, there has been a series of allegations about widespread killings in the last few months of the civil war. Those killings have led to a number of calls for the Sri Lankan Government to investigate, to permit an independent international investigation to take place. But, to date, there has been no response.
COCHRANE: There also has not been much of a response from the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, or his office. What should the UN’s next move be on this?
ALSTON: Well, in part I am actually not a UN official, but I am appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as a Special Rapporteur and I report to both the Council and the UN General Assembly on an annual basis. I have made it very clear to the Sri Lankan Government that I would like to visit, that I would like to get their side of the story in relation to this video and to delve more deeply validity or otherwise of the allegations. I think the UN system as a whole has always attached enormous importance to accountability, to ensuring that governments really open themselves up to some sort of scrutiny as Australia has recently done in relation to its indigenous people, and hopefully the Sri Lankan government will be encouraged by other governments to take that really important step.
COCHRANE: Although there have not been particularly cooperative so far have they? I understand you have made repeated requests to visit Sri Lanka and conduct your investigations in your role as the Special Rapporteur. I mean does this suggest that the Sri Lankan Government has something to hide?
ALSTON: Well, I was there in 2005 and produced a very detailed report and I think that experience was probably a reasonably positive one. In fact, the point that I would wish to emphasis now is that the government has come out very strongly, denied the validity of this particular video and also insisted that there have been no other such killings carried out in the last year or so. If that’s the case, then the government clearly has nothing to lose and everything to gain by inviting an independent international investigation that would take the pressure off the government, it would enable it to face its own Tamil population, and say look, these are fabrications. We are genuine about how search for reconciliation. So my hope is that they might still reconsider their position and open themselves up to a dialogue with the international community.