CHENNAI: Callum Macrae, the reputed British journalist and filmmaker whose n/documentary, No Fire Zone - In The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, helped galvanise the international community into seeking answers through the United Nations Human Rights Council, is back with an expanded version. This time, there will be a Sinhalese version as well.
“Enough Sinhala people saw through the corruption and nepotism of the [Mahinda] Rajapaksa regime to bring it to an end. If they are provided with the truth about what happened at the end of the war, then I am sure they will also become part of the solution to the terrible divisions and injustices which blight Sri Lanka today,” said Macrae in an e-mail conversation with Express.
According to Macrae, the earlier regime managed to deny the vast majority of Sinhalese population the truth about what really happened during the last few months of the war with LTTE. “I believe that when the facts are known and confronted, Sinhala people will have a vital role to play in creating peace and finding new ways and political structures which guarantee the rights of all,” he added.
In March 2012, just days before a crucial meeting of the UNHRC, Macrae and
his team released through Channel 4 News of UK photographs of the body of Balachandran Prabakaran, the 12-year-old younger son of slain LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran. He had five bullet wounds on his body, which experts deduced were fired from close range — indicating execution. The one in the making will have footage showing Tiger TV presenter Isaippriya alive — photographs of her bound, stripped, tortured and executed body had surfaced earlier. Chilling as they are, these were but small episodes of the events during those last 138 days of civil conflict in which an estimated 70,000 civilians were killed, mostly - allegedly - due to heavy shelling on the identified no-fire zones. This forms the central narrative of the documentary.
Since the last time No Fire Zone was released, much has changed in Sri Lanka, most importantly the ouster of the Rajapaksa clan by a new group that has the backing of the Tamil minority, and there is a reputed former
Supreme Court judge as the chief minister of North. But the job, he says, is far from over. Macrae says the most important issue remains unattended: the search for truth, justice and accountability over the war crimes and the massacre of tens of thousands of innocents. “Until those issues are confronted there cannot be genuine peace and reconciliation for all the communities of this island,” he says.
In the expanded version, Macrae raises the question whether the change in government will really mark a step forward in the search for justice. For instance, the new army commander appointed by the Sirisena government, Major General Chrishantha De Silva, he notes, was previously president of the Court of Inquiry set up by Rajapaksa to investigate the allegations made by Macrae and others on Channel 4 News. “The report… was said to have ‘conclusively established’ that the final stages of the war were ‘conducted strictly in accordance with the Zero Civilian Casualty directive made by [Rajapaksa]’. All the casualties, De Silva claims, were caused by the LTTE. One has to ask how the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe government can claim it is ready to launch a genuine and credible domestic inquiry into these crimes while appointing such a ‘crime-denier’ as head of the army,” criticises Macrae.
For the makers of the documentary, the next job is to convince council members that they must hold firm. “That the reason they voted for an international inquiry - that the government of Sri Lanka had demonstrated it was neither willing nor capable of mounting its own inquiry - still applies. The new government has made no real moves to show it is any different.”
The council has just granted the new government a one-time extension of six months to complete the internal inquiry and submit a report on the alleged war crimes. During this time, Macrae opines, the government should take steps to sign up to the Rome Statute — and thereby International Court of Justice that intervenes in cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing and crime against humanity (and incorporating these into Lanka’s own penal code); urgent publication of lists of prisoners of war — and their release or trial; demilitarisation of the North and the return of lands seized from Tamils.