Channel 4 video not an isolated event: Kohona
By Dinidu de Alwis
Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, talks to The Nation, during a brief visit to Colombo, about propaganda campaigns, growing international pressure, and the response by the Sri Lankan government which repeatedly refuses the call for an international inquiry – at a time when international pressure is mounting on the Sri Lankan government to launch an inquiry into alleged war crimes during the final phases of the war.

Q: Looking at the pressure which has been coming over the past few weeks, especially after the airing of the Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, how is Sri Lanka’s strategy in responding to the mounting international pressure?
I think we need to be very conscious of the fact that the Channel 4 video is not an isolated event. It’s part of a chain of events that the rump Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and LTTE sympathisers have developed in order to create difficulties to the government of Sri Lanka and for its leadership.
For one thing, Sri Lanka defeated the LTTE on the battlefield, and this is something that happened despite advice from certain western leaders to call a ceasefire, and not bring the conflict to an absolute end. Remember, Krushner was here, Miliband was here, and both of them were demanding a ceasefire. You would also recall that the Secretary of State of the United States at the time called for a ceasefire.
Had we agreed to a ceasefire – in my own view – the war would still have been continuing. Today, fortunately, this country is at peace because we’ve decided that 27 years of brutal mayhem was enough. What the LTTE lost on the battlefield, they are now trying to recover elsewhere in the international arena. And for this, they have launched a number of strategies and the Channel 4 video is one of them; in fact a very impactful strategy.
We find that they’ve shown this video in the UK, there was a screening in Geneva, then we had a screening in New York, and now in Australia. I have no doubt in my mind that they will go round countries which are sympathetic towards the LTTE and start using the video to generate public opinion which is not favourable to Sri Lanka.
After the screening of the video in Australia, there have been people in large numbers demanding an international inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka. The governments of those countries, however sympathetic they may be to Sri Lanka, may not be able to withstand public pressure of this nature. These are democracies and they respond to public pressure.
The pressure might even be mounted by LTTE-ers themselves. There are hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils now living in western countries. Not all of them are pro-LTTE, but there is a core group which is very pro-LTTE, and for them the war has not come to an end. They will continue the struggle in a different way.
For us, now, we need to be very conscious of this and deal with the pressure in every possible way. We need to ensure that we manage the media, not necessarily in Sri Lanka – where the media is conscious of the fact that the war is over in this country – we have to manage the media overseas. For that we need resources.
We need to manage the NGO community, because the NGO community generally consists of liberal minded individuals, and for them a video of this nature is very provocative and very painful. They will particularly drift towards those who are demanding a war crimes investigation.
Some governments are now controlled by liberal minded politicians, others by the greenies, and of course there are also conservative governments. But by and large the liberal end of western politics tends to be sympathetic towards those who clutch at the heartstrings – and this video does exactly that: it clutches at your heartstrings.
Unless we deal with all those different aspects carefully and with a strategy in mind, we may find that the battle that we won on the ground may have to be fought again in the not too distant future.

Q: One of the key issues on the Channel 4 video is the government’s claim that the footage is fabricated. The United Nations and Channel 4 have got independent experts to verify the technical authenticity of the video. Would the government and the UN come to a position where a mutually agreed upon expert can either confirm or deny the authenticity of the videos?
I think it’s very important to remember that the solution to this problem is not going to be that easy. There is doubt as to the technical authenticity of the videos – as to whether they have been spliced together or whether the timing of sequences is technically correct: that’s one aspect of it.
Then there is the content aspect as well as whether these events actually happened. It would be very difficult for any expert to determine whether the content is accurate or not – it’s just there for you to see, and you will have to come to your conclusions depending on all the circumstances.
Then we have to remember that this video is now being pushed – or marketed – by Channel 4 or by rump LTTE, or by the NGO community. It’s not going to be easy to come to a resolution as to whether we’re going to believe in what’s in it or not.
As an example, in the scene where you see naked men being gunned down, there is nothing in my view in the video to indicate that this was actually in Sri Lanka – that these events actually happened in Sri Lanka. It could have happened anywhere in the world. There is nothing in the video to indicate that the shooters were Sri Lankan security personnel. They may be dressed up in Army uniforms, but how many times have the LTTE got into Sri Lankan Army uniforms and attacked? They attacked the airport, they attacked the Air Force base in Hingurakgoda, et cetera. These things have happened.
The third thing is that the dead – or the presumed dead – what is there to suggest that they were Tamils who were attacked? I have seen the same video circulating in YouTube where the voices are in Tamil. I think it’s going to take a superhuman effort to determine whether anything like this is authentic.
And most importantly, can you produce this before a court of law and get a conviction on the basis of what you see? Whom are you going to prosecute? There is not a face, not a name, that you can take before a court of law. There is a whole range of issues that have to be addressed. What you have to remember is that those who produced this video and screened it are not interested in the content – they are only interested in provoking an emotional response – which they have succeeded in doing.

Q: Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, on Al-Jazeera right after the video was aired, said “I’m not saying everything in it is fake – obviously not,” and he went on to clarify “some of the those could have been very well done by the Tigers themselves,” where he used the phrase “some of things” and didn’t commit himself to the authenticity or the lack of it on all the content. Would you want to comment on that?
I myself won’t go to comment on whether anything is authentic or not, but I have my reservations – and serious reservations – about certain aspects of this video, and I’m willing to come out in public and express those reservations: remembering again, that the purpose of this is not to obtain convictions, but to embarrass the government and to embarrass our leadership, because certain elements are determined that the victory we won on the battlefield will not be savoured by us for a long time.

Q: There is talk of a resolution being floated at the next sitting of Human Rights Council. Has the government had any solid information about it, and if such a resolution comes up how would Sri Lanka respond to it?
Of course we will fight such a resolution. There is no doubt in my mind about it at all. At this stage we’re not sure whether interested parties are really in a position to table and succeed, because at the last Human Rights Council meeting that happened the African group expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka, and so did the Arab group of countries. And there are others, so it’s a matter of ensuring that sponsors of such a resolution do not have 24 votes on their side. In my own view, if we explain our position clearly enough – which we have been doing quite well up to now – the chances are that a resolution may not be tabled.
But, the pressure will be kept on in the hope that at some point or other that the international community – by which I refer to only a small group of countries – will be able to adopt a resolution or do something of that nature against Sri Lanka.

Q: When you look at the recent developments through the ICC – the warrant on Muammar Gaddafi et cetera – how do you see the role of the ICC in some issues which the countries refer to as “domestic issues”?
There are a few things to remember. One is that Sri Lanka is not a party to the Rome Statute, and that the ICC acquires its jurisdiction over individuals through two categoric means. One is that the country to which the individual belongs must be a party. Secondly, the security council of the United Nations must refer a matter to the ICC. These are the means in which jurisdiction is acquired. There is also another principle embedded in the statute, which is that a country must be incapable or unwilling to discharge its obligations under the statue of the ICC before the ICC can step in.
The statute was very carefully negotiated, especially by the United States which participated in the negotiations – it is not a party to the ICC, but it participated in the negotiations. Extreme care was taken to ensure that the jurisdiction of the code was very specifically designated. If you look at the statute, you find that some of the fears and enthusiasms being expressed by the ones who are pushing the videos, cannot be justified.

Q: There was a recent petition to the ICC about your role in the alleged “White Flag” issue, where a few members of the top LTTE leadership were allegedly killed after a negotiation. Are you concerned, as an Australian national, about yourself?
There is a mixing of issues here. The fact that you’re an Australian national per se doesn’t make you liable for anything. I earlier spoke about the basis on which the jurisdiction of the ICC is established. The ICC doesn’t go after people simply because somebody lodges a complaint. You can go to a police station and lodge a complaint against anybody in this country, that doesn’t mean that the police are going to follow up on your complaint unless there is substance in your complaint.
A complaint against a high-profile person might attract newspaper headlines, which is good for their cause. This is exactly what has been done. In Australia for example, they took the matter up, and complained to the Human Rights Commission there. The case was summarily dismissed because there was no substance in it. It’s very important to remember that the ICC cannot be activated simply because two organisations affiliated with the LTTE lodges a complaint. You must have substance.
I’ve said categorically over and over again, even immediately after the conflict, that I had no authority to issue orders to troops on the ground, and that I had no authority as the Foreign Secretary to negotiate a surrender of any LTTE leaders. It’s also very important to remember that in an interview published in the Asian Tribune with a former TNA Member of Parliament who was with the LTTE till the very end, that there were no surrenders. There was no intention of surrendering, because Velupillai Prabhakaran had prohibited any surrender.