A live issue: Tamil oppression in Sri Lanka

April 24, 2013

by Sally Ashley-Cound

On 23rd April 2013, The Frontline Club held the first UK preview screening of award winning television director Callum Macrae’s new documentary, No Fire Zone – The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.

No-fire-zone-film

No Fire Zone uses forensically verified footage from civilian mobile phones and government forces cameras to chronicle the last 138 days of the 26 year long Sri Lankan civil war between the Sinhalese led government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

The film documents with sometimes disturbing footage the barbaric onslaught and effects of shelling by Sri Lankan government forces on the self-proclaimed no fire zone in the northeastern region of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni. Macrae says that the film is evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan government led by president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But why didn’t the UN or any international governments recognise the atrocities at the time? Macrae answered:

 “Sri Lanka had an extraordinary breadth of support because of its strategic position . . . and because the world powers like to deal with a single government there was an extraordinary alliance in support of, or at least looking the other way, whilst the Sri Lankan government did this.”

On interviewing Sir John Holmes, former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN, Macrae seemed still shocked at how out in the open officials were being about the facts, yet not doing anything about them:

“To start with, I thought he was being a whistleblower. I thought he was exposing what happened and then I realised that actually behind it was an extraordinary cynicism that this is exactly what the leadership and the highest hierarchies of the UN thought, which is basically ‘we will put our fingers in our ears and we’ll close our eyes and we’ll hum loudly and hope that not too many people die.’ An absolutely appalling neglection of the UN’s duties.”

Why does Rajapaksa and his government continue to target the Tamils, which now only makes up about 15% of the Sri Lankan population?

“It is important to understand the kind of culture that exists . . . [it] is a kind of ultra-nationalist, singular paranoia . . . which fails to distinguish between Tamil civilians and Tamil fighters. [It] basically sees enemies around every corner.”

Macrae emphasised that the same people who are seen to commit the war crimes in his documentary still occupy positions of power. Rajapaksa is still president and scheduled to chair the next Commonwealth leaders meeting at the end of 2013. His brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, is Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka and General Shavendra Silva, who was director of operations in the civil war, is now Sri Lankan Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.

“This is not some kind of historical, academic exercise which we’re saying we need some kind of justice or accounting or truth telling for historical reasons. The situation . . . is absolutely desperate. Repression continues . . . this is a very live issue. This has to be confronted. As Vani said at the end [of the film], there is a generation of very angry young Tamils who watched the world betray them and allowed these massacres to happen. The world now has an opportunity and a duty . . . to ensure that justice is done.”

Having already screened No Fire Zone in the Hague and in Geneva, Macrae will be running a Kickstarter campaign over the next month in order to fund a worldwide tour of the documentary including visits to Africa, Latin America and Australia. Find out details on the No Fire Zone Twitter feed soon. Macrae ended by saying:

“It would be a tragedy if this did not get seen around the world. . . . [We need to] tell people what happened because they don’t know.”

Watch the trailer for No Fire Zone – The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gask0NJajug