Wednesday 15 June 2011

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields (Channel 4)

Last night, Channel 4 in the UK aired a chilling program on the final days of Sri Lanka’s long civil war, and thankfully, they have made it available for viewing worldwide for the next few days.

"Sri Lanka's Killing Fields" is disturbing. It is revolting. It is horrific. It is also without question one of the best pieces of television journalism on conflict I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a fair bit over the years.

What shines through in the piece is how much time and effort the Channel 4 team have put into this. They have been working on this story for more the two years, and it shows: finding witnesses willing to talk and verifying their accounts, and obtaining video evidence -- including "trophy videos" taking by Sri Lankan soldiers. None of that is easy, quick or cheap. For those, like me, who often lament the scaling back of quality foreign news operations in recent years, this is a reminder that there are still people out there doing fantastic work.

The other thing that makes this documentary so good is that the Channel 4 journalists keep themselves out of the story. Neither Jon Snow nor anyone else working on the piece inserts their own take on things or distracts from the real issues with me-me journalism. The story thus speaks for itself.

And a brutal tale it is, too. As the civil war drew to a close in 2009, hundreds of thousands of civilians were corralled into "no-fire zones", where the army shelled them and rebel Tamil Tigers (LTTE) shot them if they tried to escape. Government forces targeted artillery fire on hospitals and food collection points. There is evidence of organised sexual violence and mass executions. Up to 40,000 civilians were killed in those final months.

While the Sri Lankan government continues to deny any wrongdoing whatsoever, the evidence keeps piling up. The UN Secretary-General's Panel of Experts in April 2011, "found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Channel 4 has brilliantly captured this story in all its horror. I strongly recommend you brace yourself and watch it while you still can.


  1. I agree. A very moving documentary and I hope from all this evidence something can be done. It breaks my heart to even think about what the Tamil people had to endure.

  2. Dear poster before me,

    If thinking about the last few days of the conflict breaks your heart, does it also break your heart to think of the suffering the people of Sri Lanka went through over 30 years? Suicide attacks by Tamil militant were so common around the country you couldn't watch a loved one go to work or school without wondering if they'll come back alive.

    Ending the war, however ugly it might seem, ended 30 years of suffering amongst the people of Sri Lanka.

    As painful as this video might seem, a lot of related commentary ignores that this three decade long conflict was brought upon *all* the people of Sri Lanka by Tamil militants, and the Tamil diaspora in countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia that funded the militant groups by pouring tens of millions of dollars each year into their coffers.

  3. To above comment from a Sinhalese:

    So just because LTTE terrified the island for 30 years, it is ok for your Sri Lankan government do act worser than them???

    People like you talking in favour of what Sri Lanka did against those poor Tamils are war criminals tooo!

    No human being can accept doing such things what your government forced did to the Tamils! 40.000 Tamils died in few days! It is much worser than what LTTE killed over 30 years!

  4. dear poster before me

    The last few weeks of conflict lead to the deaths of 40'000 people. It is insulting to me, and to many of my countrymen to hear you talk as if this price was almost "worth it" to stop the civil war.

    It is through the sheer pigheadedness of people such as you, that this conflict was prolonged.

    You say suicide attacks by the militants were rife, and of course they were, the tigers were terrorists.

    However, you forget that the Sri lankan army, the army of a STATE, not terrorists, reacted in kind.

    Do you not remember Black July? I, have vivid memories about that night. I remember seeing death on a countless scale.

    Do not presume to be the only one that suffered. 40'000 people died. Have a heart, that was not a worthy price to pay.

  5. May be you are also interested in knowing about the atrocities committed by the Tamil Terrorists over the period of ~30 years.

  6. Dear Sinhalese poster before me,

    Did it ever occur to you why the LTTE came into being or why the diaspora might want to fund them??

    I'm not saying the LTTE were perfect, of course they weren't, but they were borne out of repression and discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. What's your justification for that?

    Go do some reading, it sounds like you need to:

  7. To the posters before me,

    If Sri Lanka had fair treatment for the Tamils, maybe they wouldn't be forced to enforce their rights by orchestrating suicide attacks and asking for independence. What makes you think trouble isn't brewing now that you have further humiliated and scattered these people.

    You didn't end a way, you just created a generation of angry Tamils that would like to do the same to you that you have done to them.

  8. Blaming LTTE and telling the world LTTE killed it's own people, doesn't make sense.It's sad to see some Sinhalese people and Sri Lankan government still denying these war crimes. Anyone who watched the video will feel depressed. Open your eyes and heart and imagine how terrible the situation was for the innocent Tamil civilians.

  9. Maybe if the British didn’t colonise Sri-Lanka and imported Tamils to work on their Tea farms this wouldn’t happen in the first place.
    I find it funny how all these people have sided with the Terrorist. Organisations like the Al Qaeda who has killed thousands of people. Fortunately the country like the US will have an economy to fight a long wars and do it as humanely as possible. Sri-lanka is a poor third world country and years behind any western civilisation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sri-Lanka dropped nukes in every Tamil strong hold if they had it, much like how the US did in Japan.

  10. "but they were borne out of repression and discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. What's your justification for that?"

    Did you think the Tamils willfully went to Sir-Lanka to find new opportunities? You may need to ask the British why they were their in the first place.

  11. It happened Andrew Stroehlein!

    The conflict just went into the comment section of your blog!!!

  12. Speak softly now children. Think of all the other species suffering as a result of these equally evil parties. No animal should have to die because of the selfish, needless murder of any man.

  13. Indeed, the first suicide bombers detonated their vests in Sri Lanka and there is no question that the LTTE has blood on its hands, but to those of you rushing to defend the Sri Lankan gov't, tell me how that diminishes their war crimes- from the vicious assaults on Tamils to the numerous assassinations of political dissidents and journalists like Lasantha Wickramatunga:

  14. Reply to :

    "To above comment from a Sinhalese:

    So just because LTTE terrified the island for 30 years, it is ok for your Sri Lankan government do act worser than them???

    People like you talking in favour of what Sri Lanka did against those poor Tamils are war criminals tooo!

    No human being can accept doing such things what your government forced did to the Tamils! 40.000 Tamils died in few days! It is much worser than what LTTE killed over 30 years! "

    It is known fact that LTTE Terrorists (They are Not Tamil Rebels,They are terrorists, and organization is prohibited in most countries,so we doubt writer andrew's impartiality due to introducing brutal Terrorist as rebels)had kept their own blood shield to protect them few months before the end of the SL war.I am very responsibly ask what measures were taken by UN or International community to protect more than 1,50,000 Sri Lankans (Tamil Civilians) that kept as human shield to protect brutal Terrorist that well known for child soldiers,suicide bombers..etc.

    The UN,International Community should answer this question and investigate their own mistakes and should be act more responsibly in these type of situations in future.

    I would like to say I am Sri Lanka,Sinhalese who lives happily and peacefully with Tamil,Muslim brothers and sisters as many of sri lankan sinhalese do.

  15. Children ? Equally evil parties ? My religion tells me that a man has a duty to defend his family, his village and his community from attack. A duty - not an option. Now I have not begun to speak of the duties of someone who knew themselves to be a trained fighter.
    Does your religion say soldiers should stand by and do nothing when their neighbours are killed ? Now let me ask you this - if you were a Tamil man and you knew all that the channel 4 documentary shows - so you knew that the Sri Lankan army shelled hospitals 65 times after the ICRC provided the GPS coordinates, that they would rape and murder all Tamil women, and execute their Tamil prisoners, what would you do ? Lets suppose furtehr that you are in fact a trained Tamil soldier - with conventional weapons as they were - rifles, artillery etc. So what would you who are so ethical do ?Call on the UN ? Telephone Ban Ki Moon or maybe Obama ? Turn the other cheek - what if he is not christian and has never considered dying on a cross ?
    Help me to understand your position - I am interested.

  16. Most of the comments justifying this inhumane conduct are not from the normal people. These are written by professionals who had been hired by the Sri Lankan government as part of their PR campaign (millions of dollars are spent in this project) to mask their human right violations.
    A typical example is that Time Magazine removed Sri Lankan President’s name from the poll result despite being ranked fourth.
    ….that an investigation by theTime magazine has found that Sri Lankan government has paid millions of dollars to a public relations company to generate votes for Mr. Rajapaksa.

  17. According to my understanding anyone who is silent after the knowledge of a crime/atrolcity or support and justify the crime/atrocity shares the same sins committed by that crime act. As such the people who ever they are whether they are sinhalese or tamils or Hindus or christians or muslim supports the Sri Lankan Govt. armed forces act of horrible crime against humanity shares same sins committed by these people.

    Look at the Sri Lankan armed forces behaviour in the North now. There are no LTTE but still the people are being treated like slaves and on 15th the Sri Lankan army attacked the Tamil politician's and the people who attended the meeting.

  18. To the reader above... about if the British did not bring Tamils to work on their tea farms... There has been Tamils in Sri Lanka for hundreds of years before the British arrived... Which of course, had the Jaffna library- one of the more elitist libraries in the world, on the subject of South Indian History had not been burnt down, that fact would be even more obvious now...

    I will not argue this point further, because it adds nothing to the justification of the disgusting acts of racism that have been carried out.

    The fact that you still believe this fabricated lie just indicates the state of Sri Lanka at the moment. How can anyone trusts a government that still teaches his people and its future generation complete lies on his own history? How can Sri Lanka have TRUE peace, if justice is not carried out?

    I am not speaking on just the pov of a tamil person, many like minded people like myself who are Singhalese also believe this.

    The problem of brushing things under the carpet, if that eventually there is only so much the carpet can hold, before things that to come out...

    This documentary is just further proof of that. There is NO PEACE is Sri Lanka at the moment. Only a the quiet before the storm... This should have been solved much before now, Rajapakse and his loonies need to be put to trial, as Milosevic was...

  19. its painful doc :( world should response to around 100000 ple killed. if they can siriya/libya why nt sl? LLRC is eyes wash panel. ple dnt have any trust about justice from sl govt. world should act now. spl uk/usa.

  20. You guys stop bloody arguing. Sri Lankan Government are bastards. Tamil tigers are bad when it came to child soldier. I don't support Sri Lankan government nor tigers but I care about every human being. doesn't matter if the person is from africa or asia.

    To the above user who said tamil was imported to Sri Lanka by the british. People go back and read the history again buddy. You singalease were the one who came to my country in 2000 years ago from rajestan.

    Don't forget the Kalinga kindom. We were there for the past 15000 years. you took over our mother land. It doesn't matter now. Nobody owns any part of the world. every country/land is for every being on the planet.

    Whatever happened is a past. Lets hope them innocent civilians lives in peace and Give the tamil damn equal rights and make both language as a national language!

  21. My dear fellow sri lankans, Ltte was born on the repeated suppression by the successive SL Governments and its wrong to say Sinhala people. And its also true LTTE was a terrorist organization. But the world's ruthless terrorist organization is a product of world’s ruthless sri lankan governments. Me I am a tamil but all my friends are Sinhalese. They are wonderful people but I am a person directly affected and suffered from state terrorism from 1983 to 1993. Those sufferings I cannot explain by words. Few of my friends join LTTE because that is the only option to live and liberate our self. I was able to escape from near death situation from army due to my father’s high ranking position in civil service. I have seen my own eyes my best friend was shot in cold blood by the army in 1985 in batticaloa. The ordinary Sinhalese masses don’t know what was going on in north east. What they know LTTE is a terrorist who want to kill Sinhalese.
    I personally believe what has happen in the last few weeks of the final war is unavoidable and that is the only option if we really want to finish the war. Because that is the only way to finish LTTE once and for all. But whatever said and done the TRUTH is always TRUTH. We cannot hide everything. It is well known fact over 40,000 people died and no point saying those people are alive. It’s also true several rapes and bad behavior of army. Idiots only believe zero casualties. War crimes are war crimes, we cannot say there is no war crimes. What is important is instead of behaving worst than terrorist organization, the GOSL should behave responsible and if genuine reconciliation can be achieved only by bringing the truth and I am sure Sinhalese masses will support reasonable solution to ethnic issue if they made understand how Tamil people were suffered.

  22. Dear Andrew,

    Thanks for your article on Sri Lanka's Killing Fields.

    It is sad to see that the Sri Lankan Govt(Sinhalese) still denying their terrible crimes. But that's what murderers do! They deny.

    The guilty always deny their crime. In Sri Lanka's case they hid their crimes, but a few pieces of evidences escaped.

    find out more at,


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