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Crimes by the LTTE do not justify alleged crimes by the Govt. “ Macrae

2013 Nov 18

By Jayantha Sri Nissanka and Sulochana Ramiah Mohan



The controversial Channel 4 director of the documentary, No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, Callum Macrae, is in Sri Lanka to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Speaking to Ceylon Today, the father of two children who is happily married, said he had visited the country two years ago, having arrived here under cover, and went on to say that Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with lovely people. He however said, he and his C4 team have had to put up with a ‘tough time’ during their stay in the country.

Q: Did you meet President Rajapaksa?



A: No, I did not meet him, but my colleague, Jonathan Miller, met him.



Q: Was anything important discussed?



A: Not very much. I was not there but something on the lines that Jonathan had asked the President: ‘Are you worried about the accusations of you being responsible for alleged war crimes…’ and the President had replied ‘No, I am not worried about anything.’



Q: Would you like to meet him?



A: Of course, I would be very happy to meet him. I have some questions I would very much like to ask him.



Q: Is it in your agenda to take President Rajapaksa to the War Crimes Tribunal?



A: I have only a journalistic agenda. My job is to tell the truth and do an investigation on what had happened. I think it’s important for people to understand the reason I was asked to produce my first film was because I had made a number of films on war crimes, allegations of war crimes and on the unethical behaviour of leaders of countries. People ask me over and over again, why don’t I produce films about Iraq and of what Britain and the US did in Iraq? I have made more films about Iraq and more films about the allegations against the coalition forces in Iraq than the films I have made on Sri Lanka. There is major inquiry presently going on, on allegations of Iraqi prisoners being executed by the British forces, and it was I who set the tone for the investigation.   



Q: But why didn’t you produce a documentary on the LTTE and the atrocities they had committed?



A: I have addressed the crimes of the LTTE as well as the crimes of the Sri Lankan Government. What I did was based on the last four months of the war. In that documentary, I have examined all the events that took place during the war. I have referred to the LTTE militants and that they were guilty of having suicide bombers, and using child soldiers. There were footage of LTTE suicide bombing of the innocent civilians and it showed how they attempted to kill politicians, when a suicide bomber exploded a bomb during a marathon race where a politician was present, and many civilians were killed. The reality is that both sides committed crimes, but the vast number of civilians died in the hands of the government forces and that is the simple fact. The government cannot hide itself behind the crimes of the LTTE, and the crimes of the Tigers do not justify the government’s crimes.



I never disputed the atrocities of the LTTE, but the government claims to be democratic, and claims to uphold international laws at a higher level.     



Because of my investigation, I have now been branded as an LTTE sympathizer. That is very dangerous. I cannot walk on the streets of Colombo on my own. It’s not safe. I did not feel safe on the train journey to Kilinochchi that was thwarted. It’s not the peoples’ fault. They believe what they have been told, which is a big lie.   



Q:  However, your films focus on the Sri Lankan Army than of the LTTE atrocities. How can you say you have a balanced view of the crimes committed by both parties?



A: We are dealing with a government that claims to be a democratic government upholding international humanitarian laws, and which has been held responsible for the deaths of the majority of civilians. I don’t want to get into an argument on the morality of ‘killing this many people or that many people.’ But it’s certainly the case in terms of the specific crimes the Sri Lankan Government has to address which are on a huge scale; it’s not good enough to say that the LTTE was worse than the government.



Q: Does LTTE diaspora pay you to produce these documentaries?



A: Channel 4 has an open account. It’s a Trust, and a clear organization. Anyone can inspect it. When we made the first film we revealed the source of funding for the film which was entirely from foundations and charitable institutions. There was not a penny that we received from the Tamils. Besides that, can anyone imagine why the LTTE would pay me when I call them war criminals who resort to suicide bombings, shooting down their own people, and preventing people from leaving the No Fire Zone? It’s absurd!



Q: But did you make use of the situation to earn big money from the Tamil diaspora?



A: I would have been very well off than I am, had I done that. Ask my wife how much I made out of this film. She’s furious with me. She keeps on asking, why are you doing this? I am a successful film director. I can make more money by producing other films. It would be more fun and less dangerous. As a journalist, I have investigated and found the truth, and I am being told that the truth is a lie, the evidence is lies, and I am an LTTE mercenary. I don’t have to defend journalism that way.    



Q: One of the ethics in journalism is that you can write/produce but you don’t campaign for someone. You came up with four documentaries and you are hoping to produce the next one. You have been travelling extensively to reveal what you have done. Is that right?



A: I am not planning on making another documentary as yet. If there is more evidence for another film, then I would make one. No Fire Zone is a feature documentary. The first two - Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, are TV documentaries designed for television. However, the feature documentary is little different from the TV version. It is one-and-a-half hours long and designed to be shown at theaters as a movie. So it’s the   standard version and any producer who has films such as these go on tours to screen them.



Q: If your documentaries contain authentic video clips, why hasn’t the international community taken any action against Sri Lanka? In our view, that clearly shows your clips are not authentic.



A: It’s not just we, who have to prove they are authentic. We forwarded some of the footages to an independent forensic analysis company and they analyzed the footages. When we get footage, we don’t assume they are genuine till they are proved to be so, after a series of analyses.



Q: Who analyzed the footage to verify their authenticity?



A: A British company; and they don’t want to be named. We paid them for their investigations. The footage was subject to digital image analysis to ascertain if there was any evidence of manipulation. They looked for any editing that could have been done, and the direction of the light to state the type of phones from which the images were recorded. Forensic pathologists also studied the way the bodies had fallen, and the manner in which blood had been splattered to check if the images were faked. But they were genuine, and the clips were not ‘performed’ by actors. Also, the United Nations too used different experts to analyze the footage. They were tested, absolutely to the very limits one could conduct such tests. These are genuine, and I am confident of what I have produced.



You may also know that after the war came to an end, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution, congratulating Sri Lanka for finishing the war. But when evidence of crimes started to emerge, they started to ask questions. The panel of experts appointed by Ban-Ki moon saw the footage and reported to the UN that there is credible evidence. These are the developments that brought about a change.



The UN reviewed the PT report which said the evidence in the film was significant and needs to be brought to the attention of the member states. Even Navi Pillay asked for a detail report, and questioned why it was not investigated and also why there was no report on the alleged war crimes exposed by C4. So the world is paying attention. They are concerned, and that is why every six months, you see a stronger resolution being passed against Sri Lanka.



Q: If so, why didn’t the UN body or any other international body take up the matter and press Sri Lanka? Doesn’t this show there is no authenticity of your footage? And also, many don’t allow you to screen the documentary, and it appears that you are struggling to show the film. You did not even get the visa to enter India?



A: No one succeeded in stopping the movie and no one has been able to block us. There has been opposition to the movie because the Sri Lankan Government is trying to stop us from screening it; no one else. I could not go to India due to the politics there. I could have gone to Tamil Nadu but I will never go there. My agenda was not to manipulate the situation, and I feel India feared I would be in Tamil Nadu.



Q: Are you going to make another documentary on your experience in Sri Lanka?



A: My stay in Sri Lanka has been tough and I am not blaming anyone.   Sri Lankans are incredibly nice. And I do not colour my views of the people of Sri Lanka, based on the alleged war crimes. I don’t judge Sri Lankans by their President!



Q: As far as Sri Lankans are concerned, you are one of the most hated personalities. How do you feel about that?



A: I am not intimidated by that. If so, I wouldn’t be here. I am hated because the people have been told things which are not true about me. They are told through the State media that I am an LTTE supporter and these are monstrous lies. I condemn them. To deflect the attention and the criticism, they say I am a Tiger. I really don’t know what to do.



I was saying something on TV here, and they did not use my voice but a commentator read off a paper that I am an LTTE supporter. I have never been in a situation like this in my life. What am I being accused of? Being a bad journalist by these people? Are these people good people, by completely ignoring the facts, and saying that what I say is lies, and putting my life at risk? Sorry, I am getting mad.



Q: Who facilitated your journey to Kilinochchi? Did you inform the Ministry of Media about your tour?



A: The President said we were free to travel wherever we wanted to.  So we decided to go, and said, let’s go to Kilinochichi.



Q: Why did you go to Kilinochichi in particular?



A: I have been fed with two different descriptions about the North. The government and its supporters said, ‘everything is alright there.’ They spoke about the new roads, schools and that the economy is booming, the people are free, all the ex-LTTE cadres are rehabilitated. But the Tamils say they are under military repression, they have no freedom, they are subject to sexual violence, thousands of acres of land are still under the government, the Army is everywhere, there is no freedom, and decent Sinhalese farmers and cultivators are moved to the North and given grants to settle there. So what does a good journalist do?  He goes and has a look, to find out the real situation behind all these stories. But who stopped us from going there? It’s the people who said all is well in the North.



Q:What were the perceptions that you had before coming here and what are your perceptions after arriving in Sri Lanka?



A: To tell you the truth, I came here two years ago.



Q:Did you come here as a journalist two years ago?



A: No. I had to come under cover, and not as a journalist. My first impression was ‘it’s a nice place and the people are beautiful.’ I am genuine in making that statement. But I don’t think it’s a free country. The press is not free. I don’t think all the people are free nor are the rights of the minorities respected. There is a problem in Sri Lanka.



Q:Why did Channel 4 come with a 17-member team?



A: There are only eight of us. We are here to cover CHOGM and the issues around CHOGM. That includes the nature of the country that will chair the CHOGM for the next two years. We are here to cover the discussions on Sri Lanka which is now the chair of the Commonwealth. If this country does not uphold Commonwealth principles, then it  cannot be part of the Commonwealth. So we need to go around and check for ourselves.     



Q: The latest documentary that you screened of Isaipriya’s alleged murder… why did you time its screening to coincide with CHOGM?



A: We finished this documentary some time back. It was a low resolution movie clip. We wanted to know if the person in the clips was truly her. Her sister saw the film, and confirmed it was her. We were not waiting for CHOGM. But I was anxious to release it before CHOGM. That is my job as a journalist.



Q: Why did you prioritize issues concerning Sri Lanka?  



A: I did not. If you spoke to me four years ago, I was on Iraq and talking about British war crimes in Iraq.



Q: What was the outcome of that investigation?



A: Currently, there is a major public inquiry being held in Britain on the government having spent millions of pounds on the events that took place in the battle of Danny Boy; British soldiers are accused of executing Iraqi prisoners which was based on my investigation.   



Q: Are you hated by your own people for exposing that?



A: No. I made more films tracking my own government and their behaviour in Iraq, but the people never reacted like the way they do in Sri Lanka.    



Q: What do you anticipate from your findings on Sri Lanka?



A: To see reconciliation and a political solution; there should be justice. To get justice, you must first know the truth, and that has not been resolved.



Q: Why don’t you gather all the Sri Lankan officials concerned, and have a face-to-face talk with them, and clear their doubts and prove your point?



A: Every time there is a screening of the movie, Sri Lankan officials are invited to speak. But what they do is stop the screening and stand outside (in Geneva and Australia) and then deny the allegations by saying it is all lies, and walk out. I have said that the LLRC did not ask relevant questions at the inquiry. Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva was not asked important questions, such as, whose orders had he received during the final phase of the war? But he misconstrued my questions and said I was embarrassed and humiliated by him. My questions were different. He deliberately pretended not to understand me.



Q: Our Media Minister, Keheliya Rambukwella, said the people will be agitated by your presence, as you had described this country as having people who are war criminals. Therefore, shouldn’t you anticipate such protests?



A: First, investigate and come out with the truth.  That will put things right.



Q: Will you come to Sri Lanka again?



A: I would love to come again, when these ‘insanities’ are not there.

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