Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – what genocide actually looks like
Ray Cook on June 15, 2011
Last night Channel 4 screened what must be one of the most disturbing programme ever shown on British television.
It was shown after 11pm to minimise the chances that children would watch it.
The programme has been posted on the Channel 4oD website here.
This was a programme about the 2009 assault on the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan army.
The programme included stomach-turning graphic mobile phone footage of summary executions, hundreds of dead bodies, including those of women who had been raped and then shot.
It showed hospitals and hospital field units being bombed and shelled.
You felt the fear, the desperation, the horror, the hopelessness.
We saw the UN leaving a town to its fate because the government said it could no longer guarantee the safety of its personnel and we saw the people of that town pleading with the UN not to go.
We saw UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s cursory and rapid visit to what can only be described as a concentration camp, rather like the Red Cross visiting Teresienstadt and reporting all is well.
We saw how the Sri Lankan government created protected zones whose only equivalent that I can think of are the gas chambers of the Nazis who duped their victims into believing they were safe and then killed them.
Corralled into an ever-shrinking space, civilians were bombed and shelled. Thousands died. Desperate doctors performed amputations on children without anaesthetic. Disease, starvation, infection decimated the population.
And it wasn’t just the Sri Lankan army who were guilty. The Tamil Tigers are by no means innocent. They prevented their own people from escaping so they could use them as human shields, killing many who dared to run for their life.
The programme left no doubt that both sides were guilty of serious war crimes, but the Sri Lankan government, in its attempt to end the decades long conflict with the Tamils, embarked on a policy of genocide. Any Tamil was guilty by association. There was no mercy. The army was out of control and rampant.
The Sri Lankan government employed deceit to cover up its crimes; it did not allow journalists to enter the war zone, it tried to convince the world that a ‘No-Fly Zone’ had been created to protect civilians when its purpose was clearly the opposite. It sought to maximise casualties hiding behind the excuse that the Tigers were using these zones to fire at the army.
It deliberately targetted hospitals to such a blatant degree that the Tamils pleaded with the Red Cross not to pass the army the co-ordinates of their field hospitals because evidence was clear that when they did so, a few hours later, they were shelled.
As I watched, my stomach turning at every scene, some so difficult to watch I actually had to avert my eyes, I was struck by both the similarities and the differences between this conflict and the Israeli’s assault on Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009, Operation Cast Lead.
First, the similarities: both the Sri Lankan government and the Israelis were responding to a concerted campaign by a terrorist organisation whose stated aims was to ‘reclaim’ a homeland. Both terrorist groups had used suicide bombing, intimidation and ruthless subjugation of its own people.
In both the Israeli and the Sri Lankan offensives there were accusations of deliberate targetting of civilians, attacks on civilian infrastructure and protected buildings.
The more rabid opponents of Israel accused them of massacre or genocide. The Goldstone Report found evidence of possible war crimes, breaches of the Geneva Convention, failure to protect civilians, the use of human shields, illegal use of weaponry.
The accusations against Israel have been largely refuted and subjected to a long and thorough investigation by the IDF into hundreds of complaints by Palestinians and soldiers as well as reported incidents in the media. Richard Goldstone recently announced that if he had known then what he knows now the report would have been different, but he still stood by the report nevertheless.
Those who read this blog will know that I believe most of the accusations against Israel to be baseless. Notwithstanding, Israel had a case to answer and answered it in a very comprehensive and detailed way rebutting almost all the accusations and specific incidents. These conclusions are, of course, rejected out of hand by those who do not believe Israel as capable of self-investigation as any other Western democracy.
I do not believe that Israel had a deliberate policy of targetting civilians, in fact, the opposite was true. There were incidents which were negligent or ill-judged and tragic. These do not add up to war crimes or genocide.
There are no accusations of rape against the IDF, even by Hamas and no woman ever came forward with any such suggestion.
There were no accusations of summary executions of bound prisoners and no such evidence exists.
There were incidents where civilian infrastructure was hit: schools, mosques, even hospitals. In the case of schools the IDF has demonstrated that these were often used by Hamas to fire from in full knowledge that the IDF could not return fire or if it did, risked injuring children.
There was no systematic attack on schools. As for mosques, it was clear that these harboured weapons and ammunition. The IDF returned fire from some Hamas operatives using hospitals as cover to fire upon them. This is permitted in warfare.
There was no corralling of civilians and then shelling of those civilians. In one incident the IDF told a family to move to a house which was subsequently shelled and many family members killed. There is no evidence that this was anything but a tragic mistake.
The figures bear this out. Between 1300 and 1400 known people killed of which, even by Hamas’ reckoning 700 were combatants. The IDF figures show far fewer non-combatant casualties.
Let’s consider the worldwide condemnation of Israel for attacking Gaza from where thousands of rockets had been fired over a considerable period of time. And this after Israel had evacuated Gaza completely. Soon after, Hamas took control and began suicide attacks and bombings and a barrage of indiscriminate rockets fired at towns in Southern Israel.
Israel was accused of disproportionality even though very few people actually know what that means in international law.
Muslims marched all over the world calling Israelis baby-killers, genocides and aggressors and called for the destruction of the State of Israel.
Investigations which led to the Goldstone Report were begun with great haste.
Israel was vilified by the world media.
Now look at the Sri Lankan campaign against the Tamils.
At least 40,000 civilians were killed and relatively few combatants. The actual figure may be much, much higher. It could be more than 100,000.
There was torture, rape, clearly deliberate targetting of hospitals and civilians.
What happened in the UN? There was a very low-key call for an investigation which the Sri Lankan government rejected.
The whole thing was buried and soon forgotten.
There was no worldwide condemnation.
Sri Lankans were still safe to walk the streets of Europe and play Test Match cricket.
There were no flotillas, no high-profile demonstrations in the world’s capitals (there were some by the desperate relatives of Tamils abroad).
In short no-one really gave a damn. Not the UN, not the EU, not Sri Lanka’s neighbours.
I have had issues with Channel 4 programmes about Israel but I have to congratulate them on bringing this horrific genocide to public attention.
Yes, genocide, targetting an ethnic group and deliberately killing, raping and starving that group with the resulting deaths of tens of thousands of people is genocide. Killing up to 700 innocents in Gaza is not.
If the Israelis committed crimes they pale into insignificance compared to the horrors of Sri Lanka plain for all to see.
Sri Lanka, Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Cambodia – all killing fields where hundreds of thousands died or are still dying.
Yet, UN Watch reports the inestimable Hillel Neuer’s address to the unintentionally ironically named UN Human Rights Council:
History will record that the highest human rights body of the United Nations met today for no objective reason. Nothing in recent events, nothing in logic, nothing in human rights justifies today’s debate.
Our meeting is automatic—the consequence of a decision adopted four years ago, shortly after this council was created, to keep a permanent agenda item on one country only: Israel.
History will record that at a time when citizens across the Middle East were being attacked by their own government—by rifles, tanks, and helicopters—the UN focused its scarce time and attention on a country in that region where this is not happening; the only country in the region which, despite its flaws, respects the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion; the only country in the region with free elections, an independent judiciary, and the equal treatment of women; the only country where gays are not persecuted, arrested or stoned to death, but, on the contrary, march in their own annual parade, as they did in Tel Aviv three days ago.
Mr. President, that is why the logic of this agenda item represents the opposite of human rights, and why it embodies the pathologies that so discredited this council’s predecessor.
Indeed, this item is so unjust, so biased, so selective, so politicized, and so contradictory to this council’s own principles of equality and universality, that it was condemned by the Secretary-General himself, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, on 20 June 2007, the day after its adoption.
And so we ask: In its recent 5-year review, despite everything happening in the Middle East, why did the Council decide to perpetuate this item, an act that will be finalized this week by the General Assembly?
History will record that when citizens were being persecuted or massacred by their own governments—in Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere—the UN chose to turn a blind eye to the victims, and instead endorsed the cynicism, hypocrisy and scapegoating of the perpetrators.
Thank you, Mr. President.
So now we can add the massacres in Syria on which the UN remains all but silent. Not forgetting the many thousands of Palestinians killed, harassed, made stateless and left to rot by Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other states.
Genocide of Palestinians? Even the Ma’an news agency reports an 8 fold increase in Palestinians since 1948 with more than 5 million in Israel, and the Palestinian territories.
So don’t tell me about Palestinian genocide, just tell me about the intended Jewish genocide announced, documented and planned by Hamas, Hizbollah, Ahmadinejad and several Muslim clerics in the region.
And while you are at it, please explain why the entire world is fixated on perceived Israeli crimes and so sanguine about millions massacred elsewhere.
I see no mention of the C4 documentary in any of my Twitter connections, not one. Did anyone mention it in parliament? Where was Gerald Kaufman that staunch defender of human rights? Where is George Galloway? Tony Benn? Where Cameron or Millipede and where Clegg? Anyone heard William Hague call it unacceptable or Cameron mention prison camps? Does Jenny Tonge understand why a Sri Lankan soldier can hold a rifle against the head of a Tamil and blow his brains out?
Why has no-one called for the destruction of the the Sinhalese majority Sri Lankan state and the creation of a ‘free’ Tamil one.
Where are our religious leaders? Where are the Methodists or the leaders of West Dunbartonshire Council? Who’s banning products from Sri Lanka? How many Sri Lankan politicians and soldiers have been threatened with arrest if they set foot in the UK?
Sorry, I forgot, Israel is by far the most evil state in the world and must be singled out for special opprobrium even if that means less time and attention spent on real criminals.
You see, the poor Tamils have no well-organised international groups keeping their grievance in the forefront of world attention.
They do not have the benefit of a red-green alliance. (1)