No task is harder than defining the truth, perhaps because there can be so many versions of it. At the moment the UK and Sri Lankan governments are engaged in trying to find out the ‘truth’ behind the Channel 4 videos that were aired as a documentary titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’. This tussle between the Sri Lankan Government, international community, Tamil Diaspora and United Nations has brought the matter of war crimes to a climax.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in the UK released a statement shortly after the documentary was aired, dismissing all allegations and insisting that the footage is fake. Similar front page denials were carried in the Daily News and Dinamina newspapers on Wednesday. The Government’s official website, www.news.lk, several days ago remarked that the official response from the Government would be presented after the handing over of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report. The Defence Ministry website carried a statement from a professional citing the videos as fake, adding to the official stance of denial that remains unwavering.
One of the stumbling blocks is that a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, who commissioned a team of video and forensic experts to analyse it, has pronounced it authentic. The widespread publicity that the videos and the subsequent documentary has received has made it all the more difficult to out rightly deny the incidents allegedly recorded by Government soldiers.
Increasingly, the attention of the international community and other stakeholders are turning to the contents of the videos and the Government is being urged to initiate investigations regardless of the technical discrepancies that are highlighted by experts. The latest was a statement by the UK Foreign Office that described the documentary footage as “horrific”.
In an article by the BBC British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt is quoted as saying he was “shocked by the horrific scenes,” which he said contained “convincing evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”.
He has also stated that the UK was ready to join the rest of the international community in pursuing “all options available” to pressure the Sri Lankan Government to act. The announcement comes as the UK Home Office prepares to deport some 40 Tamils, including five who claim that their safety has been compromised after their case papers were passed to officials in Colombo. Despite the paradox in these circumstances, Sri Lanka will have to prepare for a diplomatic response to the fallout.
Given the severity of the documentary and responses to it, the Sri Lankan Government will have to take steps that go beyond promoting the LLRC and its report. Strong diplomatic overtures will have to be made to ensure that the progress that has been made since the end of the war and the assistance provided to internally displaced people will be highlighted. A more transparent process for detainees and closer diplomatic ties with countries that support Sri Lanka will have to be promoted.
Providing the framework for a political solution to the ethnic crisis is also important, especially in the heightened discussions with India, which has stood by Sri Lanka in difficult times. Some will argue that the nation is healing, but ignoring the pain of one community makes for an imperfect peace.
As a sovereign nation Sri Lanka has the right to solve its own issues, but it must be done in a manner that evokes trust and understanding among the different communities. That, after all, is the result of truth.