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Victor Koppe on the Channel 4 documentary "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields"

Published on : 21 June 2011 - 1:34pm | By International Justice Tribune (Photo: RNW)
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Sri Lanka denies targeting civilians while crushing Tamil Tiger rebels but said action would be taken if war crimes allegations contained in a new British documentary were true. The Channel 4 documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, contained footage of what it said were prisoner executions.

 

By Geraldine Coughlan

The programme also provided evidence to suggest that the Tamil Tiger fighters had also committed war crimes. Two UN investigators have confirmed the video as authentic, but the Sri Lankan authorities maintain it is fake. Victor Koppe, the lawyer for Tamil Tiger activists in Europe, told IJT how he would use such video evidence in court.

How can such a video be authenticated?
As I understood it, it’s footage from mobile phones of soldiers who are willing to testify that footage is actually coming from their phones - that would be one way to authenticate it. However usually in criminal cases this material is used as evidence in a supporting way rather than as the main evidence on which the prosecution relies.

So before a war crimes tribunal then obviously witnesses would be the main source of evidence and this footage that we can now see on TV would be possibly playing a supporting role.

How would such a role apply to rules of evidence?
You can see it all the time in tribunals, that video footage is used as evidence in a supportive manner. Of course the main evidence will always be the testimony of witnesses - be it witnesses of specific crimes or be it insider witnesses. Any other sources are documents - for example, in this case from the military, etc. So it doesn’t necessarily have to play the most important role within a prosecution case.

Is there a difference in presenting such video evidence in national courts, compared to international courts?
I don’t think there would be really any difference because I cannot imagine any criminal case focussing solely on this footage - simply because there will always be a risk that it is falsified or not authentic. So as a prosecutor in a tribunal or in a national domestic court, you would never want to rely solely on footage from a mobile phone or whatever.

Would such evidence be more easily accepted in an international court like the ICC, than in a national court?
Not necessarily. I think the rules of evidence don’t differ that much between domestic courts on the one hand and international tribunals on the other.

Evidence is usually what witnesses present. It’s about the way they present it and if the evidence is reliable then it is also about the footage and I think the basic rules of evidence don’t differ that much.

How would you present evidence like this video in court?
I would solely use it as supporting evidence which comes from primary sources like witnesses, people who have been present while those crimes were committed. That could be deserting soldiers from the ranks of the Sinhalese army or it could be people from the Tamil population who witnessed those horrific events.

They would be the primary sources and I would back it up with this material.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) is listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union. Why are you in favour of lifting that ban, even though the Tamil Tigers are regarded internationally as a terrorist group because of their attacks on civilian targets during the conflict?
Well we have filed an application against this ban a few weeks ago before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg and one of our main arguments is that the Tamil groups are fighting a legitimate battle for self-determination.

You know the right to self-determination is one of the fundamental principles of international law. And it is within the context of an armed conflict that there were two parties fighting each other.

Obviously things have gone wrong - but to call the LTTE a terrorist organization rather than one of the two fighting parties is in our opinion contrary to international law.

Lead photo - ECCC on flickr.com - all further use subject to this CC licence

Discussion

eyes wide open 9 August 2011 - 9:42am / Sri Lanka

New documentary
On another front, Sri Lanka released a professionally produced documentary this week called "Lies Agreed Upon." It takes aim at another program, "Sri Lanka's Killing Fields," produced by Britain's Channel 4 a few months ago.

"Doctored footage and deliberate lies are presented as authentic," an announcer says in the documentary. "Numbers are pulled from thin air and presented as fact. Sources are not mentioned, faces hidden, and voices distorted -- just like the truth." VOA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSqxYdVDOKo

Anonymous 8 August 2011 - 5:46pm / Austria

There appears top be a living witness to the footage released via Ch.4 - viz the embedded cameraman Mr. Ramawickrema. It is being suggested that he used an LTTE owned Camera, which was captured by the SL Army in Jany. 09 when the Separatist Capital Kilinochchi fell.
This cameraman probably decided to transfer the relevant footage into mobile phone format for easy sale when Ch. 4 bought it for a tidy sum?
The Govt. Expert too maintains that the original was filmed on an advanced
camera - the kind used by India Film Houses. In all probability it can
be proved that LTTE media unit owned such equipment. The advanced features
were experimented by Ramawickrema and unwittingly he has helped the Tamils
to re-lay the Eelam foundation by the diaspora.

Anonymous 28 June 2011 - 3:26pm / CA- USA

Hey guys,

Didn't President Obama take the same route with Bin Laden?

Why couldn't the Navy seals capture Bin Laden in that operation?. By their own reports ; Bin Laden was in a house, they met with negligible resistance (on the basis of troop count ratio al qaeda : Navy Seals), Bin Laden was in a room with his wife, he was unarmed (in the sense his weapon was not on his person at the time of the incident, and not in a ready to fire position).

The legendarily skilled Navy seals could have easily exercised the tactical option of using "disabling fire" as opposed to "termination fire". Bin Laden was not known to have carried a suicide cyanide capsule around his neck. He could have easily been captured and brought to the USA for Obama administration to have, if not "negotiated a peaceful settlement",at least tried him under international law for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.

Why shoot the man, and "bury" his body at sea? (Which its self was infuriating and contrary to Islamic norms of burial). The reason I can figure out, and is quite apparent by their own incident reports, is that the Navy Seals were never given a mission directive to "capture alive".

So President Obama, at the time of authorizing the mission, has clearly exercised a military option, and never once considered a "capture a live and litigate and/or negotiate" option. In principle I think President Obama was quite right. Bin Laden type maniacs, quite similar to Hitler and Prabhakaran type maniacs, cannot be negotiated with.

Anonymous 28 June 2011 - 2:58pm / Sri Lanka

I tend to agree with the comment by Anonymous 28 June 2011 - 2:29pm / Sri Lanka.

It is not Mahinda Rajapaksha that is the equivalent of Hitler. It was Prabhakaran, the dead leader of the LTTE.

It was he who carried out mass genocide (hundreds if not thousands of indisputable and irrefutable events) against the Sinhala and Muslim communities, and even his own race the Tamils who had a different opinion to that of his own.

The only reason the demon Prabhakaran doesn't outclass Hitler is he couldn't get around to have an unarmed civilian population as large as 1 million annihilated due to the skills and talents of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Sorry, I don't intend to hurt my American friends, but despite 5 or more attempts over 30 years, the Sri Lankan world trade center still stands proud in one piece due to that skill. But where the Americans only lost about 3000 souls in the 9/11 incident, Sri Lanka has lost probably more than 250,000 lives from all communities (Sinhala Tamil and Muslim) due to this maniac.

In terms of brutality and sheer dastardly purpose that was inhumane, Prabhakaran was far more menacing than Hitler. Hitler was a docile poodle in control of a far greater resource machine (Germany)thus apparently more destructive, compared to Prabhakaran the manic Pitbull. But they had similar and parallel if not an identical purpose.

If the international community lead by coalition forces was justified in militarily routing Hitler (even to the degree of bombing Berlin - a civilian city) then Mahinda Rajapaksha is the Sri Lankan equivalent of Churchill. The similarity is that both from the inception accepted the hard to swallow truth (despite much public opinion to the contrary), that maniacs such as these cannot be reasoned with, which leaves only a military option.

Churchill was hailed a hero, why is Rajapaksha damned for the same logical reasoning?

Anonymous 28 June 2011 - 2:29pm / Sri Lanka

I think all atrocities in the name of conflict is inhuman. Doesn't matter whether Tamils do it or Sinhalese do it. Don't forget that this issue focuses only on the last stages of the battle that was 30years long.

I think Vasudevan (22 June 2011 - 12:22am / Sri Lanka) has a point. I broadly subscribe to the points of Law submitted by Victo Koppe, but he would do well to remember also that both national and international law contain the concept called freedom to individual opinion. The significance of the list by Vasudevan is that the names on it are all non-combatants,verifiable beyond refute- professionals and/or democratically elected representatives of the Tamil people who didn't agree with the view point of the LTTE, and expressed their own, which was quite contradictory and even nullifying of the LTTE objectives.

In this case the LTTE assassinated these individuals, simply to remain the
"dominant or eventually only voice" of the Tamil people. That is not an acceptable act (Military, Civil or Litigatory) under any circumstances leading to a path of self determination. To brutally silence the independent and different opinions of "members of your own race" is nothing but terrorism. A good and still alive example is the Minister Douglas Devananda, also the leader of EPDP, at the start a parallel combatant outfit to the LTTE, with a similar objective of self determination, and which eventually chose democracy. Quite a number of EPDP members were assassinated simply for having a different and independent opinion. And Minister Devananda survived more than 30 (?) attempts on his life. I should add that this surviving occurred in the so called "Sinhala dominated south", where allegedly Tamils are "persecuted and subject to genocide"

So the question arises, was there "abject persecution and genocide" against the Tamil People in Sri Lanka. I wonder?! It boasts of quite a number of Tamil democratically elected leaders, the best and well known Lakshaman Kadiragarmar, the onetime foreign minister of Sri Lanka, assassinated by the LTTE just for that reason, being the foreign minister. Many professional luminaries, of the caliber of Tiruchelvam, and Kadiragarmar himself was an Oxford scholar. MAny Tamil people headed and still own and head blue chip companies in Sri Lanka, a large number work in the private sector. Many Tamil people are respected members of the Civil Administration. Muralitharan, the famous Sri Lankan bowler is a Tamil,whose carrier was defended in Australia by Arjuna Ranatunge, (might I add at risk to his own carrier as a cricketer)- a Sinhalese.

So when the accusation of genocide and other atrocities is made, largely it is by those who subscribe to a "Polarized view". A view that has been shoved down their throats for nearly 30 years on fear of death, not by independent logically reasoned choice. Those that did that were summarily terminated by the LTTE.

There is one incident in my life time that shames me to date to be a Sinhalese. That is 1983 riots that claimed Tamil lives. But it is also a point where I take some pride. ( *** ! ? you must think...) The reason is simple. Ask any Tamil that survived that despicable incident in the south, and they will tell you that they survived due to the cover and assistance granted to them by a greater majority of the Sinhalese community, who did this at the risk of persecution by the Sinhalese rioters.

Since, the Sinhalese community has never gone on a racial riot, despite extreme provocation of the LTTE, who exploded severe bombs (suicide- kamikaze style, in fact the LTTE is held to have perfected this terrorist technique and that is unequivocal) in Sinhalese communities, killing countless non-noncombatant civilians. The most noted is what is called the Sri Maha Bohi massacre, where old grandfathers/grandmothers, mothers/fathers and children, positively and indisputably non-combatant civilians totally unarmed, in a non-combatant location (civilian city), in prayer/meditation/Sila ( a state of a vow of renunciatiory self discipline) on occasion of Poya (Full moon) day, were gunned down (mowed down) by an LTTE automatic weapons armed Gang. If this is not planned and targeted genocide then what is? for these pilgrims could be nothing else but Sinhala Buddhist, Poya been a Sinhala Buddhist holy day for prayer, pilgrimage and veneration.

Similar genocide has been carried out by the LTTE against the Muslim community of Sri Lanka as well. The eastern province of Sri Lanka, and certain areas of the Northern province had many large Muslim townships and villages, predominantly (at times 100%, and always the upper 90th%). The LTTE sumarily carried out night time execution of these civilians (men, women and children) again indisputably unarmed, non-combattant. On many occasions the genocidal raids were carried out on Friday (the Islamic day for Jumma prayer) in the town mosques. The only crime of these assassinated was to be Muslim - i.e. non-Tamil and living in the LTTE geographic dreamland of Elam. (Elam means freedom - I wonder where it was for these assassinated Islamic communities)

So clearly this wasn't a Sinhala- Tamil issue but something far more ugly.

I have one word for it - TERRORISM.

Sonal Patel 22 June 2011 - 3:40am / India

Wow, after witnessing all this bloodletting and massacres of these innocent people that were cornered on a sliver of land by a brutal inhuman army, I think I know who the real 'terrorists' are. I just can't believe that my country (India) provided support and is still aiding these bloody war criminals. I was thinking that Buddhists are for peace and harmony. Boy, did these scumbags give a real bad blot to all peace loving Buddhists around the world. I have no doubt the Buddha is turning over in his grave. I think this so-called army of rapists, murderers, child molesters and psychopaths must be single largest collection of inhuman cannibals ever assembled on the face of this earth. I heard that they wanted to be part of UN peacekeeping. Really?... wake up and smell the corpses!
I still fear for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. I hope the world acts upon the brutal rulers of Sri Lanaka, sooner than later as every day that goes by a few hundred innocents die. If they don't this would probably be the biggest world-sponsored genocide ever. That guy in with the white kurta and red shawl (Mahinda Rajapaki) must rival Hitler for the most hated persons in the world.

Sri 23 June 2011 - 12:52am / UK

Yes, you have said it!

cabs 22 June 2011 - 2:42am

This is all Rubbish. This is Blood money of ruthless Terrorist LTTE taking. All these actors are licking LTTE ass for money. what a shame. and LTTE is trying to make issue now cause they want to collect money from innocent Tamils living in Europe,USA and Canada so they can live luxury life. SL Gove must bring all these ruthless Terrorist(Diaspora) to courts and try them for War crimes.

Aathi 22 June 2011 - 12:04pm / USA

Are you for real? Is your head still buried deep in the sand? Slowly lift it up without and hurting it and see smell the corpses.

Terry Reichert 22 June 2011 - 12:35am / USA

Even applying very low standards of morals, this government of Sri Lanka, its army under the control of the Rajapakase brothers is pure terror. They unleashed an absolute relentless terror on unarmed civilians and massacred over 50,000 people on the beach. This is addition to over 100,000 they killed over three decades. All this crying foul about video being fake really seems childish. Do they really think that the rest of the world is foolish? They thought they had succeeded in conducting a war (but really a genocide) without witness and got away with it but little did they know that the technology would bring their downfall be it a small cell phone or the satellite operated by countries like US and other private parties. Their time in Hague is soon coming otherwise I'm really losing hope for this humanity.

Western doctor 12 August 2011 - 11:07am

Reichert you are so full of S*#$. Where in the world did you possible come up with this? Incomprehensible and totally ignorant statement.

Udugampola 22 June 2011 - 12:22am / Sri Lanka

As a Tamil, it would have made sense to support the LTTE, but you have to understand that as Sri Lankan Tamils, we have borne the brunt of the atrocities by the LTTE.

For example, I have listed below a small portion of unarmed innocent Tamil Politicians, Government Servants and other VIP’S that have been brutally killed by the LTTE
A T Duraiyappah SLFP Mayor for Jaffna
A Thiagarajah Ex ACTC MP for Vadokoddai
K T Pulendran UNP Organiser for Vavunia
A J Rajasooriar UNP Organiser in Jaffna
Mala Ramachandran UNP MMC for Baticaloa
Gnanachandiram Ex District Judge, Point Pedro and Government Agent, Mullativu C E
Anandarajah Principal, St Jones College, Jaffna
B K Thambipillai President, Citizens Cimmittee
P Kirubakaran Primary Court Judge Kathiramalai
Sarvodaya Leader Vignarajah Assistant Government Agent,
MR.Samanturai Anthonimuttu Government Agent, Baticaloa
S S Jeganathan Assistant Government Agent, Baticaloa
Sinnadurai Assistant Government Agent, Trincomalee
M E Kandasamy Principal, Palugamam Maha Vidyalaya
Kanapathy Rajadurai Principal, Jaffna Central College
S Siththamparanathan Principal, Vigneswara Vidyalaya, Trincomalee
S Wijayanadan Distric Secretary, Ceylon Communist Party
Velmurugu Master TULF Organiser and Citizens Committee Member, Kalmunai
Rev. Father Chandra Fernando President, Citizens Committee, Batticaloa
Rajjshankar President, Citizens Committee, Tennamarachchi
S Sambandamoorthy Ex TULF Chairman, District Development Council, Batticaloa
V M Panchalingam Government Agent, Jaffna
K Pulendran Assistant Government Agent, Kopay
A Amirthalingam TULF Leader and National List
MP V Yogeshwaran Ex TULF MP for Jaffna
T. Kailainathan Director of Vocational Qualification
Dr (Mrs) Rajini Thiranagama Lecturer in Anatomy at the Jaffna University
Ganeshalingam Ex EPRLF Provincial Minister for North and East
Sam Thambimuttu EPRLF MP
Mrs Thambimuttu Wife of EPRLF
MP V Yogasangari EPRLF MP in Madras
P. Ganeshalingam EPRLF provincial minister
P. Kirubakaran Former EPRLF Finance Minister, North Eastern Province
A Thangadurai TULF MP for Trincomalee
Mrs Sarojini Yogeshwaran TULF Mayoress for Jaffna
Thomas Anton Deputy Mayor of Batticaloa
Pon Sivapalan TULF Mayor of Jaffna
Pon Mathimukarajah TULF General Secretary, Jaffna Branch
S.T. Tharmalingam SLFP Organiser, Jaffna District
Canagasabai Rajathurai EPDF Member for Jaffna
Veerahaththy Gunaratnam Member of the Pachchilaipalli Pradheshiya Sabha (PS) in Jaffna
Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam Leader of TULF (29 July 1999)
N. Manickathasan Vice President of Tamil Political party working with the Sri Lankan Government
Vadivelu Vijeyaratnam Point Pedro Urban Council Chairman (14 Jan 2000)
Anton Sivalingam EPDP’s Municipal Council members in Jaffna (1 March 2000)
Kanapathipillai Navaratnarajah TELO member of Arayampathi, Batticaloa – on 7 June 2000
Rajan Sathiyamoorthy Tamil National Alliance
Kethishwaran Loganathan (54) Deputy Secretary General of Sri Lanka Peace Secratariat, SCOPE
Lakshman Kadirgamar Foreign Minister and SLFP MP (National List)
T. Kailainathan Director of Vocational Qualification
Markandu Eswaram Chief Engineer
I.Shanmugalingam STAFF REPORTER, Eelanaadu & EELAMURASU newspaper, Jaffna
Venerable Sivashri Kungaraja Kurukkal.

The above numbers do not mention the Sinhalese and Muslim politicans, intellectuals and academics that have also been assassinated by the LTTE and are also just a drop in the ocean as they have killed thousands of innocent Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim and others in Sri Lanka and abroad.

The LTTE had so many opportunities to follow the path of peace and come to a political settlement vis-a-vis the ethnic issue. However they shut the door for peace on many occasions, always opting instead for conflict. This left the Sri Lankan government with no option but to finish off the LTTE. Yes this war against LTTE was a horrible and brutal war but it would have been worse if the LTTE had remained in existence today. The Sri Lankan Government has already started an inquiry into all the human right issues with regards its conduct and I am confident that accountability will be taken soon.

I am so happy to see the Tamils in Sri Lanka are now living peacefully with the other communities.

The peace and future reconciliation of the country remains a threat by the publication of such inflammatory and faulty articles.

Please do not open up the old wounds and disrupt the ongoing healing process among the communities in Sri Lanka.

Kind regards

S. Vasudevan

Sri 23 June 2011 - 1:02am / UK

Yes, but it will be impossible to list the names of 150,000 Tamil civilians murdered by the Sinhala Only military and police!That is why the Sinhala Only Buddhist state is by far the biggest terrorist which is hiding from an international UN Investigation and running behind countries which sold it lethal arms to carry out genocide to protect it from further exposure and liability! The abject failure of governace by the state stinks.

Aathi 22 June 2011 - 12:11pm / USA

Thank you for that exhaustive list. How could you easily ignore all the Tamils unjustifiably murdered in the hands of GOSL since 1958? Or, did you only catalog LTTE murders? Nonetheless, the case is "war-crimes". Do you have list of "everyone" killed by the GOSL and LTTE in war-crimes?

Anonymous 21 June 2011 - 8:30pm

The arguments on the genuinety of the video and need for witnesses are only needed for a court. because everyone who knows about Sri lankan war, particularly tamil people, know how brutal and inhuman sri lankan army can be against tamils... there is no need for proof , every single tamils are witnesses for that.
If Sri lankan gvt wants to focus on whether the footage is real or not ..it should allow independant investigations and come to International court to defend it self...

karun 21 June 2011 - 7:15pm / United Kingdom

if there is nothing to hide then why srilanka worrying about U.N investigation? The real TERRORIST is SRILANKAN government because whoever comes as PRESIDENT of SRILANKA always kill TAMILS and there is lots of evidences for that. U.N need to act quickly before srilanka government KILL REMAINING EYEWITNESS..!!

Anonymous 21 June 2011 - 6:40pm

So, Victor Koppe thinks the right to self-determination is one of the fundamental principles of international law. Does that make it OK for the Tigers to kill civilians? What about a State's responsibility to protect her people? If you carefully look at the video, it is easy to see that its the Tigers killing captured Army soldiers. Look at the colour of the victims. Look at the uniforms worn by the killers. Look at the way the killers look. Look at how young the killers look. The Tigers have a history of killing people and using the footage for propaganda purposes.

Ram2009 21 June 2011 - 4:53pm

It is easy to fake such evidence today. The BBC Panorama paid a £50000 fine for making such a program re Primark. If there are genuine footage included it's value value is diminished by the fake footage.

Anonymous 21 June 2011 - 4:27pm / Norway

just bullshit

Anonymous 21 June 2011 - 3:27pm

So now UN Will act?

Sandraa 21 June 2011 - 2:30pm

This is why Sri Lanka chose to conduct the without any witnesses. Though ICRC cannot testify in courts, Sri Lanka did not want to take a chance and the make-shift hospitals with ICRC flags were targetted.

The 21st century human abusers should take note of the Sri Lankan conduct if they want to avoid Mladic, Al-Bashir cases.
'War on Terror' or Gadhafis 'Al Qaeda' slogan will come very handy for nations which toxicate the already psycopath military with communal polity and incentive to kill.

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