“Certainly I intend to be present at the CHOGM as a fully accredited member of the media, as I was at the last CHOGM in Australia. I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me there and will accord me and all the members of the international press free full access to all the groups and people in accordance with fundamental Commonwealth principles on human rights and free press.” says the Documentary-Maker – Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields Callum Macrae.
He made above remarks with an interview with Ceylon Today journalist Sulochana Ramiah Mohan on last Sunday.
We publish below the interview in full;
Q: Channel4 has continuously highlighted purported commission of war crimes by the Sri Lankan Security Forces, a claim the Sri Lankan Government has steadfastly denied. Given that your content is seriously disputed by the State, how do you propose to prove the authenticity of your content?
A: The evidence comes not just from us, but from a whole range of bodies. The UN panel of independent experts concluded crimes were committed by both sides, but most deaths came as a result of government shelling of the so-called No Fire Zones.
Our investigation – conducted over three years – was subjected to very strenuous scrutiny. The Sri Lankan Government supporters made over 100 complaints about our TV coverage to the UK’s independent broadcasting regulatory body, Office of Communications (OFCOM). After lengthy investigations every single complaint was rejected. It was accepted we had carried out an extensive investigation, verified the authenticity of this material and subjected evidence to rigorous journalistic analysis and cross-checking.
A second UN investigation by a completely different team, the Petrie Report – found more evidence of war crimes. And then there’s the evidence in the leaked US cables, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) descriptions, the satellite images with their conclusive evidence of shelling.
Against that what do you have?
A government, which claims it had a policy of ‘zero civilian casualties’ and on the last day of the war declared, unbelievably, that ‘all of the civilians who were inside the No Fire Zone have now been rescued by government forces.’ Even the government now admits 7,000 died.
The problem is so much of what the government says is simply implausible. Take their claims they weren’t using heavy weapons, for example, the claims they maintained even while heavy weapons were regularly shown in use on government TV news reports!
And if there were no heavy weapons being used why was Shavendra Silva interviewed on the front line, posing beside a tank used in the massacre at Pudumathalan, (when thousands died in a massive assault to split the NFZ in half). Or why – on the last day of the war, on the beach at Mullivaikal – did the Sri Lanka Army fire a massive celebratory barrage on a huge array of heavy weapons, including multi-barrel guns?
I am sorry but we – and all the other investigations including those of the UN, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch – have proof of our claims. It is the government’s version of events which flies in the face of the available evidence.
Q: A charge against Channel4 is it raises the issue of alleged war crimes only when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is to discuss Sri Lanka’s human rights record. What is the reason for it?
A: I am a journalist. I make current affairs documentaries. I research and uncover truths, which are relevant and newsworthy. So, of course, I prepare such evidence in time for important events. That’s not a conspiracy – that’s journalism!
Journalists have a vital and important role in calling governments to account and forcing them to confront genuine concerns from their own people and from the international community. That is why there is so much concern from around the world that in Sri Lanka so many journalists and media workers have been exiled, have disappeared or been killed.
Q: A committee appointed by the Sri Lanka Army probed the Channel4 documentaries and declared the content ‘doctored’. What evidence do you have, if you so wish to, disprove the findings?
A: The Army investigated itself and found itself innocent? I have to say I am not very surprised!
Our evidence was not ‘doctored’ in any way. Every frame of footage was cross-checked against known events, dates and locations. The material, which depicts actual war crimes like executions, the aftermath of sexual assault and torture, was carefully analyzed and authenticated by forensic digital image analysts. They checked the technical meta- data and examined each frame for evidence of editing or image alteration.
They looked at visual clues like the direction of the light – and were even able to tell us what kind of phone or camera took each clip. They also compared the images of the same scene shot on different devices. There were no discrepancies.
The material was analyzed by a leading forensic pathologist, who examined the wounds, the nature of the blood spatter and so on. He too concluded there was no evidence to suggest any of the images were faked. Separately, the UN’s Special Rapporteur commissioned an investigation which reported: ‘The overall conclusion reached by the experts is the video is authentic… The view in the video footage is neither doctored nor staged; it shows real people being summarily executed.’
I’m afraid that – unpalatable as the truth may be – this evidence is not faked. These things really did happen.
Q: The government has blamed Channel4’s documentary series on Sri Lanka as a planned act to bring disrepute to the island. Why have you not taken steps to counter these charges, given that you have lobbied against Sri Lanka strongly?
A: Can I just clarify one thing. I haven’t lobbied against Sri Lanka. I have called for our evidence of war crimes, to be investigated.
By investigating war crimes in Sri Lanka I am acting no differently than when I made films investigating allegations of war crimes by British and American forces in Iraq. It is my job. I will investigate war crimes whether allegedly committed – or actually committed – by the British Government, the Sri Lankan Government or the LTTE.
But I have always resisted the temptation to respond to claims which are self-evidently untrue. For example, I have consistently been accused of having been paid by the ‘LTTE Rump’ to make these films – once even of having been paid US$ 5 million by the LTTE!
Can I remind you what my films have said – over and over again: The LTTE is guilty of war crimes. They are guilty of using terror tactics, of forcibly conscripting child soldiers and using suicide bombers. In the latest film No Fire Zone I ran horrifying footage of LTTE suicide attacks in areas full of innocent civilians. I accused them of shooting at Tamil civilians trying to escape the NFZs.
Does the government really believe the Tigers paid me to say these things! These kinds of accusations are clearly absurd. That is why I ignore them.
Q:The government has requested for the original video footage from Channel4 to assess authenticity of the content. Are you willing to comply with the request?
A: The execution footage was taken by government soldiers – men who are, or are supposed to be, under the control of the government. Why has the government not collected these images itself? In all of the footage you can see other soldiers filming on their phones. In the pictures of Col. Ramesh, after his execution, we can see an identifiable soldier being shot. We can see several phones being used in the footage where bound naked fighters are being executed in cold blood. We can hear voices and identify some soldiers.
It is beyond comprehension the Army has not investigated and collected these images themselves from the men under their command. Why are they asking a British filmmaker for them?
I fear the real reason they want my particular copies is not because they want to investigate the images, but because they want to track down the people who leaked them. In any case, most of them are now freely available on the internet. Indeed, some material has been made available to them by the UN.
Q: The Sri Lankan authorities claim you failed to practice fair journalism when footage was released for public consumption without the government’s version in it, rendering your content biased and unacceptable. What’s your response?
A: When we made the two TV films, we sent detailed letters to the Sri Lankan Government describing every significant allegation, inviting them to take part in an interview and give their side of the story.
They refused, saying: “The Government of Sri Lanka does not wish to be associated with the Channel at any time, unless and until a suitable retraction is made to the satisfaction of the government.”
Despite that, we included a clear representation of the government’s position on all the main claims.
So, the truth is we did ask them for their version – and they refused to give it. Not the other way round!
Q: Sri Lankan Ambassador to the European Union, P.M. Amza, has said you have misinterpreted what the interviewees have said. For example, one alleged victim says in Tamil; ‘Athavathuaspaththirikku aim panniththanadichchiruppinam,’ which literally translates to ‘they may have aimed and attacked the hospital’ contrary to what is translated in the broadcast videos. Do you accept this can be easily construed as an attempt to bring the government to disrepute? Who were your translators? Why have you not verified the translations?
A: Before both the UN and the European parliamentary screenings of No Fire Zone, we invited the Sri Lankan Government to address the meeting. At the UN meeting, the Sri Lankan Ambassador arrived after the film had finished, read a statementල which entirely failed to address the issues in the film – and then left before anyone could reply!
I didn’t see at what point Amza arrived at the European screening – but after the film finished, he also made a statement in which he asked several questions – and then left without waiting for the answers. Bizarrely, the two bits of Tamil, which he quoted (and you refer to) are not even in the film! These quotes were actually in the TV documentaries and at no time did we misrepresent anyone. We used several translators to check and double check translations. In any event, there is extensive evidence, which supports the allegation that government shelling fell on hospitals.
Q: The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the EU has refuted the specific allegation on the killing of a 12-year-old boy, identified as the youngest son of the LTTE Leader. The Ambassador has raised the issue as to why the ‘expert forensic opinion’ insisted the child was killed inside the bunker not by the Army but possibly by his own bodyguards, to prevent him from being captured by the Security Forces. Why was this possibility never addressed?
A: Again you will see why I am so reluctant to get involved in these debates. Think about how they were found. Does Amza seriously think the bodyguards killed the child by shooting him five times, and then shot themselves in the back of the head while blindfolded – and with their hands tied behind their backs?
Q: Are there going to be any more videos in the Killing Fields series?
A: That depends on what other evidence emerges.
Q:Will you try to draw attention to the human rights issues of Sri Lanka during the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)? Is that your next advocacy platform?
A: Certainly I intend to be present at the CHOGM as a fully accredited member of the media, as I was at the last CHOGM in Australia.
I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me there and will accord me and all the members of the international press free full access to all the groups and people in accordance with fundamental Commonwealth principles on human rights and free press.