Sri Lanka’s killing fields screened on Capitol Hill, US response discussed

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge | Published on July 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm

The harrowing documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields was screened on Capitol Hill Friday July 15, 2011 in conjunction with the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The Documentary screening which was shown in New York last month is co hosted by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, the International Crisis Group, and The Open Society Foundations and aired from 3-5pm.

 

Co chairman TLHRC, James P. Mcgovern (D-MA)

US response discussed

The screening at the Capitol Visitors’ Centre was free and open to the public and followed by a panel discussion. US Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, will give introductory remarks before the film screening. After the film, panelists will discuss ongoing efforts to further accountability in Sri Lanka, including the findings of the recent U.N. Panel of Experts report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, and the U.S. response to these developments.

Tom Lantos Commission

The co-chairs of the Lantos Commission Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) and Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) hailing from across the political divide have been in the forefront of human rights issues. On May 3 the duo released a statement they stood with all those courageous journalists who have given their lives in pursuit of uncovering and reporting the truth.

Co chairman TLHRC, Frank R. Wolf (R-VA)

In April 2009 the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission convened a hearing on Sri Lanka. The impetus was the disintegrating human rights situation in the northeastern “no fire zone,” the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge and other attacks on journalists and the fact that both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government prevented journalists and UN agencies access to the conflict zone, thus attempting to ensure a war without witness.

Video evidence

But those that did so had not accounted for smart phone videos by triumphant soldiers who perhaps had not quite realized the terrible significance of the incidents they recorded. Most likely the spontaneous video footage of alleged summary executions of Tamil Prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers was taken at the time possibly more for private consumption than for public airing.

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabaya Rajapakse has repeatedly and publicly demonstrated his mind set in these matters. In an interview with the BBC in February 2009 he stated hospitals outside the no fire zone were legitimate targets in Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Hard to find

The Channel 4 documentary premiered at the Palais de Nations, Geneva on June 3 on the margins of the 17th

Rajiva Wijesinha

Human Rights Council sessions. It shows shocking footage of brutality during the last stages of Sri Lanka’s war. The video footage in the film has been described by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heynes, as reflecting “definitive war crimes.”

The Sri Lankan government has denied the footage is authentic and one of its advisors and spokespersons Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha recently told Britain’s Hard Talk it was ridiculous to expect the government to seek and question those soldiers clearly identifiable in the video footage as there were over a hundred thousand soldiers in Sri Lanka and it would be hard to find them. The film has fueled renewed calls for an international response to these crimes.

The Documentary came on the heels of the UN Panel of Experts Report released in April that states there was credible evidence both the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the last months of the war. Sri Lanka’s government tightly controlled by the Rajapakse family has vehemently denied these charges and maintains the war was a humanitarian operation with zero civilian casualties.

UNSG committed

However the spokesperson to the UN Secretary General earlier told Lanka Independent the Secretary General was fully committed to UN Panel Report recommendations. He also said the Secretary General was very keen to ensure that the voice of the international community is heard and that the authorities in Sri Lanka will respond constructively to the recommendations in the report.

Wickremasuriya’s luncheon

Ironically tomorrow’s screening takes place only a month after Sri Lanka’s Embassy in Washington DC and its Ambassador and

 

PHOTO CAPTION: Sri Lankan-Americans meet with Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya (seated, far right) at the Sri Lankan Ambassador’s residence, Washington, D.C., to plan a series of June 13, 2011 meetings with members of Congress

Presidential cousin Jaliya Wickremasuriya claimed the embassy arranged over a hundred meetings with congressmen for nearly 100 Sri Lankan Americans. The embassy said they arrived from all over the US to Capitol Hill on June 13 to brief Congress on reconciliation and post-conflict progress in Sri Lanka as part of Sri Lankan-America Day on Capitol Hill.

The Sri Lankan Embassy also said Sri Lankan-American voters from 25 states had reported to one fifth of Congress that Sri Lanka’s reconciliation was on track and that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC) was bringing the country together.

The press release however did not specify whether these American citizens of Sri Lankan origin had lived in Sri Lanka during the Rajapakse administration and the harrowing last three years of the war or if they had any personal experience of alienation, victimization or abandonment, or whether they had lost their homes, loved ones and lived through the horrors of a war.


Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala., ) speaks to Sri Lankan-Americans and Congressional staff members during a reception to mark Sri Lankan-America Day on Capitol Hill. Photo from Sri Lanka Embassy in DC

According to the press release two Republicans – Rep. Robert Aderholt from Alabama, co-chair of the Sri Lanka Congressional Caucus and Rep. Steve Chabot, (R-Ohio), chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South East Asia, together with Congressional staff members had visited with the diaspora during a luncheon reception in the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Office Building.

Ambassador Wickremasuriya had also boasted publicly that of all the Ambassadors from Sri Lanka to the US in 60 years he above all had met the most number of Congressmen. Whether this is true or not is of little concern in a city where it is always politics as usual and where quality matters more than quantiity.

US Senate congratulates Moon and calls for accountability in Sri Lanka

One of the challenges for Wickremasuriya is that a 100 Senators on March 1, 2011 passed by unanimous consent and without amendment, Resolution SR84 commending United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for creating the three-person panel to advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to human rights accountability.

SR84 also called on the government of Sri Lanka, the international community, and the United Nations (U.N.) to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka. It also called on the government of Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian organizations, aid agencies, journalists, and international human rights groups greater freedom of movement, including in internally-displaced persons camps and called upon the President of the US to develop a policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects U.S. interests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

 

 

 

Both House and Senate consider legislation

Indeed both the House and the Senate have considered legislation related to the situation in Sri Lanka. While the Senate passed SR84, the House H.R. 440, “To provide for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia,” and H.Res. 177, “Expressing support for internal rebuilding, resettlement, and reconciliation within Sri Lanka that are necessary to ensure a lasting peace,” were referred to Subcommittee in March 2011. The latter is about to be voted on to the House floor.

Does congress believe Jaliya?

Therefore Wickremasuriya may have met a record number of congressmen but they clearly do not believe his spiel. In fact the Senate and a vast majority of the House have turned on Sri Lanka even as the Ambassador has been in Sri Lanka since June attending the wedding of his nephew Manoj (son of Gotabaya Rajapakse) and acting as a tour guide of sorts for the annual signature tour with the Ambassador. It would seem Wickramasuriya is away on holiday at a critical time for the country.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission which is co hosting the screening on the Hill comprise at least 12 Reps. who were once strong supporters of Sri Lanka and extremely anti LTTE and deeply suspicious of that organisation. At that time dating back to 2003 the Congressmen included Aderholt ( Republican Co Chair of the House Sri Lanka Caucus), Pitts, Berkley, Myrick, Moran, Wolfe, Rohbacher, Garrett, Costello, McDermott,Young and Ros-Lehtinen ( also Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe meets UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on July 5, 2011

 

 

 

US urges accountability

Furthermore at the recently concluded Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva from May 30 to June 17, the United States was lavish in its praise of the UN Secretary General’s leadership in convening the panel of experts on Sri Lanka, stating it was deeply concerned by the findings of the Panel. The US also said it was committed to seeing credible accounting of and accountability for violations of international human rights law, and international humanitarian law whichever side committed them and urged Sri Lanka to respond constructively to the Panel’s report.

Navi Pillay and the HRC

These comments followed a hard hitting opening statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who reiterated her full support for the recommendations set out in the Panel of Experts Report. She also urged the Human Rights Council to take into consideration new information contained therein.

Significantly India did not oppose the High Commissioner’s statement and neither did other SAARC countries like Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh, while France, Hungary, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and Switzerland supported the recommendations in the UN Panel report.

Not surprisingly, like minded regimes such as Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Cuba spoke up against the recommendations and any credible international investigation into alleged war crimes and expressed faith in a domestic internal mechanism of accountability instead.

Meeting with Ranil

Meanwhile following several high level meetings with Congressmen, their staff and State Department officials earlier this month, on July 5th, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

At the rare meeting with the UNSG (who almost never meets with Opposition Leaders of nations) Wickremasinghe briefed him on the Opposition’s views on the Panel Report.

Question by Lanka Independent to UNSG

On July 7th, two days after the Ranil/Moon meeting, Lanka Independent asked the acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq at the daily noon briefing of the UNSG in New York, whether the Secretary General would send the report to the HRC.

Lanka Independent: Will the Secretary General send the UN panel of experts report to the Human Rights Council(HRC) officially, and if so when and if not on what basis?

Farhan Haq: “we have as you know made the report public. Regarding any onward transmission to other bodies, the Secretary General is considering next steps and if and when we have a further course of action to announce we will do so at that time but it is public and on our website”.

Moon under pressure

It is vital to note that the UN chief has now been pushed into considering next steps with regard to the report – significant progress widely thought to be the result of forceful nudging by the US.

When the Lanka Independent in an exclusive interview with UNSG Spkesperson Martin Nesirky, asked this same question a week before the 17th session of the HRC commenced in Geneva May 30th, the answer was more reticent. Nesirky replied that the Report was made public and other bodies could by virtue of that fact take cognizance of its content.

Moon seems to have moved forward from that approach to considering a more proactive role in the process of accountability following the report. Human Rights activists say the UN chief merely making the report public but not directing its course would suggest that he had crumbled under pressure from different quarters thus distancing himself from a report he himself commissioned.

Vital to send to HRC

The importance of sending the report officially to the Human Rights Council, activists say is that it is then officially endorsed by the United Nations and the multilateral body can act on its contents. Once it is officially sent to the HRC it could be placed on the agenda after the Human Rights Council Bureau unanimously agrees – an agreement experts say, that may be hard to come by given that Cuba who vehemently opposes any international accountability mechanism for Sri Lanka, is currently a bureau member.

Another excuse for inaction in the up coming sessions in September would be the fact that the home grown Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which was recently given a 6 month extension would not have concluded its findings by then. Therefore if the UN Panel Report is in fact to be taken up at all seriously at the HRC Sessions it would happen most likely in March of next year, a human rights activist said.

Sri Lanka loses the Hill

In the end what is even more ironic is that Sri Lanka is paying millions of dollars it can ill afford to Public Relations companies to boost its image  abroad and keeping the number one lobbying firm Patton Boggs on retainer and the country seems to have still lost the Hill. Perhaps the message to Sri Lanka is stop fighting and engage.

 

Details for tomorrow’s screening

WHEN: Friday, July 15, 2011, 3-5 p.m.

WHERE: Capitol Visitors’ Center, Congressional Auditorium and Atrium (for directions and a map go to: http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/visit/ )

Refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

 

NOTE: This article was first published on February 14,2011

 

 

 

 


31 Comments to “Sri Lanka’s killing fields screened on Capitol Hill, US response discussed”

  • [...] documentary has been to Geneva where it had ambassadors in tears, it has been to Capitol Hill where it seems to be improving the USA’s stance on Sri Lanka, and it was seen by a million [...]

  • [...] Human Rights bodies say they would like to see both reports tabled for consideration in the March sessions of the HRC. See further discussion on the subject here. [...]

  • [...] Sri Lanka’s killing fields screened on Capitol Hill, US response discussed [...]

  • Mr Keerthisinghe it is YOU who have forgotten who killed the 600 policemen. It was KARUNA who is being harboured by the Rajapakse government and is not a minister of the regime enjoying all the perks and freedoms the poor Sinhala rural folk gave their blood to protect and save. I’ll be very happy if the former LTTE’s are brought to justice START WITH KARUNA. THe man who MURDERED 600 policemen AFTER THEY SURRENDERED.
    BUT NO. the Rajapakses not only protect him like they protect KP, but they even went so far as to FORGE a passport FOR KARUNA and send him to LONDON. HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THAT TOO?

    JUSTICE MUST BE SERVED IN EQUALLY TO ALL. UEs we are all for former fugitives from justice being tried. Start with most of Rajapakse’s own ministers first.

    • Ms.Pathirana,
      I have not forgotten the past.Buddha reformed Angulimala and made him an Arahath.Angulimala killed 999 persons,Karuna killed 600.What is the purpose of opening old wounds?What matters is peace and reconciliation,forgetting the past and looking forward to a bright and prosperous future for the Sri Lankan people.People who are anxious to punish the armed forces placing their trust on a fabricated video have not said a word about atrocities committed by the LTTE and the humane manner in which the Sri Lankan government is rehabilitating over 6000 former LTTE combatants and re-integrating them to society.GOOD THAT U HAVE NOW CHANGED UR TUNE AND TURNED TO STAND FOR JUSTICE FOR ALL INCLUDING THE POOR SOLDIERS.IF THE FORMER LTTE COMBATANTS ARE CHARGED WITH TREASON AND WAGING WAR AGAINST THE STATE ARE U AWARE OF THE PUNISHMENT AWAITING THEM?

  • [...] Sri Lanka’s killing fields screened on Capitol Hill, US response discussed « LANKA Inde… …The screening at the Capitol Visitors’ Centre was free and open to the public and followed by a panel discussion. US Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, will give introductory remarks before the film screening. After the film, panelists will discuss ongoing efforts to further accountability in Sri Lanka, including the findings of the recent U.N. Panel of Experts report on war crimes in Sri Lanka, and the U.S. response to these developments… Source: http://www.lankastandard.com [...]

  • How can you say that. It is wrong. At least he is supportive of the government during a national crisis. He is not taking the opportunity to break the government now because to face the barrage that will soon come ,he too knows that there must be a united front. I read the article on this site about ranil meeting the UNSG and he has been very moderate and responsible. THe problem is sri lankans dontr see the value of this man. Look at what is happening in the US with the debt ceiling issue. Govt may shut down because the Dems and Reps and specially the Reps are playing politcs at a critical time just to get obama out in 2012. You people should be happy about ranil

  • Ranil is dragging the country in the mud that is what he is doing

  • Well what is ranil doing? all he is doing is getting free rides round the world. Let him stay in Sri Lanka and fix his party

  • I think you not interfere in our affairs at all

  • Quite right. Also another argument is that since the US is bombing Libya and Afghanistan it does not matter what sri lanka does. While the situations cannot be compared in any way both in terms of innocent casualties and circumstances – as sri lanka bombed its own people indiscriminately – and Gotabaya Rajapakse himself finds that hospitals are legitimate targets, in any case why do the sri lankans want to follow the wrong doers and excuse their own leaders for all sorts of crimes on the basis that the west is doing the same thing. If that is the case why do you want to ape the west? Do differently. If you say the west is not accountable and you want to be as far different from the west as possible then be accountable. Simple as that

  • Why do the People of Sri Lanka not see what is happening to them and what the politicians are doing to them. The west is not their enemy, their enemy lies within. Justice and accountability are key. I fully agree with the writer Sonali’s comment to Peter .

  • India is also putting pressure now and this is only going to get worse.

  • “The video footage in the film has been described by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heynes, as reflecting “definitive war crimes.” also he has said that they have done forensic tests on the footage and satisfied it is genuine. What does it matter how it was obtained. May be the soldiers hawked the footage for money. The important thing is, is it true? If it is not why is the govt so scared? Why don’t they find the soldiers some of whom are clearly identifiable in the footage and ask them? Surely such a professional military must be having records of all their soldiers. Why did Rajiva Wijesinha say they couldn’t find them rather than say they were definitely not soldiers when Stephen Sakur asked him that question? Also I don’t think any country will order military strikes against Sri Lanka. At best it will be a tribunal for alleged war crimes directed specifically at those who held command responsibility.

    • SO YOU WANT TO IDENTIFY THE SOLDIERS AND PUNISH THEM.YOU ARE GOING ABOUT FREELY WITHOUT FEAR OF BOMB BLASTS AND SUICIDE BOMBERS IN THIS COUNTRY BECAUSE THESE POOR RURAL YOUTH RISKED THEIR LIVES AND FOUGHT RUTHLESS PRABHAKARAN AND THE BARABARIC LTTE AMIDST GREAT HARDSHIPS SOMETIMES EVEN WITHOUT FOOD AND HAVING PAINFUL INJURIES THEY SAW THEIR BROTHERS IN ARMS BEING TAKEN PRISONER TORTURED AND THEIR BODIES THROWN BY THE LTTE.HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THE 600 POLICEMEN SHOT IN COLD BLOOD BY THE LTTE AFTER THEY SURRENDERED.LARGE NUMBER OF THE POOR SOLDIERS WHO FOUGHT FOR THEIR MOTHERLAND WHILE WE WERE RELAXING AT HOME LOST THEIR LIMBS AND ARE DISABLED FOR LIFE.THIS THEY DID FOR US SRI LANKANS.IF THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT I SAY THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD BRING CHARGES AGAINST THE LTTE COMBATANTS IN CUSTODY AND RE-ARREST THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN RETURNED TO SOCIETY FILE INDICTMENTS AGAINST THEM BRING THEM ALSO TO JUSTICE.THIS SHOWS HOW UNGRATEFUL AND FORGETFUL SRI LANKANS CAN BE.

  • How did the UN Advisory Panel or anyone else obtain video footage from triumphant soldiers?Is it by offering financial incentives?How could anyone depend on such footage which may have been fabricated to earn financial benefits?Are not we inviting the UN to order air strikes against our motherland just as what is presently being done in Libya?I am not holding a brief for the present regime.There are a lot of shortcomings and unsolved crimes being committed just like the murder of Lasantha; but I do not think that such crimes are reason enough for inviting foreign aggression and devastation of our motherland.Finally if the UN were to be pushed into action what would be the end result?Will it not lead to the massacre of thousands of innocent Sri Lankans by UN authorized air strikes just as in Libya when the leader is not prepared to surrender nor the Sri Lankan people are cowards to hand over their leader who brought relief to our people by killing ruthless Prabhakaran and decimating his barbaric terrorist outfit.

  • The irronic thing. Lets say LTTE would not have been defeated and actually the SL goverment gave up for a demand of a tamil elaam. And the tamils got it …Do you really think we would have this “which hunt ” with accusation of war crimes against the sl goverment?

    Its a shame and insult against all other enthic groups living in peace, and not trying to get a own state in this island ..That the tamils ones again but this time without weapons trying to hurt sri lanka.

    Muslims, Malays, Kafirs, Burgers, Veddas all trying to live together with the tamils, but tamils have some sickness of obsession of a own land. If you guys dont know, you have just 30 minutes flight to Tamil nadu. there is the homeland.

  • this must stop sri lanka need to go ahead not look at past.

  • Peter it is not my intention to cast in a pejorative light the Sri Lankan American voter in this country. My point is clear, have these people who put themselves forward as emissaries for all Sri Lankans including that part of the Sri Lankan population – civilians in the north and east who have lost their loved ones and homes, journalists, activists,dissidents who have suffered, been killed, gone through the horrors of war, had their homes raided…have these self appointed emissaries been a part of that experience or have they lived in cooler climes sipping coffee at curbside cafes, sending their children to Ivy league schools and having business interests in Sri Lanka? Are their business interests and the patronage of this government more important to them than justice. Can there be reconciliation without justice? There is no one answer to these questions. Each person’s frame of reference is different. Accountability on the part of its leaders and politicians is the one principle that will propel Sri Lanka to the fantastic future it so deserves.

  • Peter you have a point. Also the US will not do anything against their own interests and Human Rights is secondary to all that. The article talks about the resolution by senate and House which says the same thing look after US interests. So the Rajapakse regime will be allowed to go on and the Rajiva’s and Mervyn’s can relax

  • Good analysis but are you trying to say that the Sri Lankans in America either don’t care or don’t known and understand what was goin on in Sri Lanka. They too could have family and friends there. and just because Ambassador jaliya is not there why can’t his deputy take over. In New York Shavendra who is the deputy did all the talking when the film was screened there

  • Rajapakse will be reviled and hated but he will still remain in power the usual time for all dictators about 30 years so get used to it

  • Because now there is video evidence and it is coming out…with more to follow

  • President Rajapakse will not care about the US, he didn’t then why should he now ?

  • Sonali as usual an intelligent piece of journalism well written. I’m glad you are back and writing

  • Excellent article.

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Human Rights

Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

Sri Lanka’s killing fields screened on Capitol Hill, US response discussed

The harrowing documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields was screened on Capitol Hill Friday July 15, 2011 in conjunction with the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights ...