Sri Lanka execution footage: UN calls for investigation

Footage broadcast by Channel 4 News showing the alleged massacre of Tamil prisoners is evidence of “serious international crimes”, the UN says, as pressure mounts for an international investigation. A UN envoy has urged the international community and Sri Lanka to further investigate footage obtained by Channel 4 News purporting to show the summary executions of naked and bound men and women during the country’s civil war. Channel 4 News first broadcast footage of the alleged execution of Tamil prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers in 2009. Last December, damning new footage came to light of the same alleged massacre and the behaviour of government troops. The new footage revealed the naked dead bodies of at least seven women and a number of men. The faces of some government soldiers allegedl carrying out the executions could also be seen. Following an extensive investigation, Channel 4 News uncovered the identification of one of the victims captured in the video – a high profile member of the Tamil Tigers’ press and communications wing.


On Tuesday Christof Heyns – the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – told a press conference the case should go to the next level of international investigation after earlier recognising the video showed evidence of “serious international crimes”.

He stopped short of saying there could be an international war crimes case, but his comments raised pressure on Sri Lanka to submit to an international inquiry into charges that war crimes were committed at the end of its brutal 25-year war with guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The prima facie case should go to the next level of investigation on a domestic and an international level,” Heyns said.

“We should recognise the domestic process, but I think in parallel there should be an international investigation.”

Sri Lanka has acknowledged some non-combatants were killed in the war, but says the numbers have been inflated by LTTE supporters.

Sri Lanka has also accused the international community of trying to pre-empt its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

In dialogue with the UN rapporteur, Mohan Pieris, Sri Lanka’s attorney general, said the LLRC had also been studying the video.

He argued that the publication of the videos and “subsequent steps” were “tainted with the fundamental vice of bias and partiality”.

Channel 4 News’ hour-long investigation, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, will be shown in Geneva on Friday on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council and broadcast in Britain on June 14.

It includes the roughly five minutes of footage examined by UN-appointed experts.



UN premiere for Sri Lanka war crimes film

Channel 4 is to screen Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, a special one-hour investigation which features devastating new video evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers at the UN this Friday 3 June. The film will be screened on the margins of the UN Human Rights Council session. It will air on Channel 4 on 14 June.
Featured in the film will be a video first aired by Channel 4 News which shows government troops executing Tamil prisoners – described today by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heynes, as reflecting “definitive war crimes.” Presented by Channel 4 News journalist Jon Snow, the film features footage captured on mobile phones, both by Tamil civilians under attack and government soldiers as war trophies. It shows: the extra-judicial executions of prisoners; the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian camps and dead female Tamil Tiger fighters who appear to have been raped or sexually assaulted, abused and murdered. Also examined in the film are some of the terrible crimes carried out by the Tamil Tigers, including the cynical use of Tamil civilians as human shields.

Channel 4’s Head of News & Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne, who commissioned the programme, says: “The footage is probably the most horrific the channel has ever shown. The decision to show it at length was made only after serious and careful consideration. We believe this dossier of visual evidence combined with harrowing eye-witness testimony represents prima facie evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by forces of the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It is of the greatest possible public interest and as such we have a duty to journalistically scrutinise it.”

The film, directed by Callum Macrae, provides powerful evidence – including photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage and satellite imagery – which contradicts the Sri Lankan government’s claims of a policy of ‘Zero Civilian Casualties’. The film raises serious questions about the failures of the international community to intervene and prevent the deaths of up to forty thousand people and lends new urgency to the UN-appointed panel of expert’s call for an international inquiry to be mounted.

Macrae said: “The Sri Lankan government wanted a war without witness – deporting journalists and pressurising UN representatives to leave – but it didn’t allow for the extraordinary power of mobile phone and satellite technology. We have trawled through hours of painfully raw recordings of the some of the most awful events I have ever seen in many years of war reporting. Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields raises serious questions about the consequences if the UN fails to act – not only for Sri Lanka but for future violations of international law.”

In a world exclusive, Channel Four News first revealed the existence of and broadcast the footage which is the subject of the report published yesterday by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heynes.

The video was first broadcast on 2nd December 2010, edited versions were replayed on 4th and 5th December during President Rajapaksa’s visit to London.

Channel 4 News’ Head of Foreign News Ben De Pear said: “The authentication of the footage by the UN which, as Christof Heynes says, could be important evidence of war crimes is of major international significance. We would like to pay tribute to the bravery of those who risked everything to get the footage out to the world, and to the relatives and friends who identified the victims in the video.”

Press Contact: Channel 4 – Marion Bentley;, +44 20 7306 3747/ +44 7914 381 803


The UN investigator, South African law professor Christof Heyns said of the footage first shown by Channel 4 News: “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order – definitive war crimes…The overall conclusion reached by the experts is that the video is authentic and the events reflected in the video footage occurred as depicted.”

The original shorter version of this footage is referred to throughout the report of the UN Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka as the ‘The Channel Four footage’.


Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields will be shown at 11:00 (Geneva) in Room XXII (22) of the Palais des Nations on Friday 3rd June at an HRC side event hosted by Amnesty International.

Interviews will be available with director Callum Macrae following the screening.


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