Media spotlight on Rajapaksa

Channel 4 News, 27 July 2011

Channel 4 News has uncovered further evidence of the mass murder and brutality committed by Sri Lankan armed forces in the final weeks of the war against Tamil-speaking people which ended on 18 May 2009.

Last night’s news report included eyewitness testimony from two army officers on the frontline. One of them heard the chilling order from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, defence minister and brother of the president: “Finish it off the way it has to be done.” Army commanders knew that meant unleashing a terrible wave of murderous violence.

As all those fighting for the rights of Tamil-speaking people know, by 15 May 2009, 130,000 Tamils were trapped in the so-called ‘no-fire zone’ by two army divisions with no chance of escape.

Mahinda Rajapksa’s regime was determined to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and did not care how many civilians died to achieve it. Indeed, it made no distinction, all Tamils were targets. And when Brigadier Shavendra Silva received the order “to finish the job by whatever means necessary”, he carried it out fully. People were shot at random. Women were raped and mutilated, their breasts cut off. People had their tongues cut out. Children were killed.

Following the allegations made in Channel 4’s documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (14 June), last night’s report provided new evidence of the summary execution of LTTE members and civilians who had surrendered. Channel 4 has a further 46 photos – which, along with its film footage, have been forensically verified as authentic – showing scores of dead bodies.

Shavendra Silva was richly rewarded for his services. At the end of the war, he was promoted to major-general. Then, on retirement, he was made deputy ambassador to the United Nations, a position he still holds.

Channel 4’s reporter, Jonathan Miller, tracked Silva down. As expected he denied all the allegations: “No such thing has happened,” he said. It is “only Channel 4 who is accusing,” he complained. But that is not true. More and more people are pointing the finger at Rajapaksa’s brutal regime – not only campaigns such as Tamil Solidarity.

Mark Ellis, head of the International Bar Association and leading human rights lawyer, agreed that there is “prima facie evidence” that war crimes have been committed bySri Lanka’s military and political leaders.

Channel 4 also showed former president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, speaking at a meeting inSri Lanka’s capital,Colombo. She said how shocked she was to have seen the Channel 4 documentary and denounced the violence of the regime. “My son is ashamed to call himself a Lankan,” she said.

Of course, when Chandrika was president (1994 to 2005) her administration stepped up the oppression against Tamil-speaking people. She also pushed through a vast programme of privatisation of public services which worsened conditions for working-class and poor people throughoutSri Lanka.

But her speech is significant because it shows that splits are appearing among the tops of the political establishment of the Sinhala majority.

The Rajapaksa regime has used the war against the Tamil-speaking people to divide the mass of the population. Alongside its military campaign it has conducted a propaganda offensive to force the Sinhala majority to support it. At the same time, it has hidden the truth of the scale of its brutality from ordinary people through media restrictions and repression.

Meanwhile, it is pursuing policies which are driving down people’s living conditions. Price rises on basic goods have hit working-class families hard. Privatisation of the public sector is causing job losses and cutting services. So-called ‘free-trade zones’ have increased exploitation and lower the wages of all workers. Attacks on democratic rights – such as trade union and political rights, and media freedom – are aimed at stopping any resistance.

Nonetheless, outrage at the brutality of the regime is spreading as the truth becomes more widely known. When this is joined by the growing anger of working-class and oppressed people at the regime’s policies, the spell of Rajapaksa’s divisive propaganda will be broken.

Jonathan Miller made the important point that the increased media spotlight is rattling Rajapaksa’s regime. Now is the time to step up the pressure, above all, through mass, grassroots campaigning for the rights of Tamil-speaking people, for workers and all oppressed people inSri Lanka.

By Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary

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