Deeming Sri Lanka execution video authentic, UN expert calls for war crimes probe

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston

7 January 2010 – An independent United Nations human rights expert said today there are strong indications that the video of alleged extrajudicial executions by Sri Lankan soldiers that aired last August on British television is authentic, and called for an inquiry into possible war crimes committed during the conflict with Tamil rebels.

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, commissioned three experts in forensic pathology, forensic video analysis, and firearm evidence to examine the video, after concluding that the investigations carried out by the Government had not been thorough or impartial.

“The conclusion clearly is that the video is authentic,” he told a news conference in New York. “I have therefore called on the Government of Sri Lanka to respond to these allegations.”

The Government – which earlier this year declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after years of fighting – has categorically denied the allegations raised by the video, which purportedly depicts the extrajudicial execution of two naked and helpless Tamil men by the Sri Lankan military and the presumed prior executions of others.

It had commissioned four separate investigations which concluded that the video was a fake. However, Mr. Alston had pointed out that two of the Government’s experts looking into the matter were members of the Sri Lankan Army, the body whose actions have been called into question.

Meanwhile, the reports by the three experts from the United States commissioned by Mr. Alston to examine the video “strongly suggest that the video is authentic,” according to a note prepared by the Special Rapporteur.

Peter Diaczuk, an expert in firearms evidence, concluded that the recoil, movement of the weapon and the shooter, and the gases expelled from the muzzle in both apparent shootings were consistent with firing live ammunition, and not with shooting blank cartridges.

Daniel Spitz, a prominent forensic pathologist, found that the footage appeared authentic, especially with respect to the two individuals who are shown being shot in the head at close range. He found that the body reaction, movement, and blood evidence was entirely consistent with what would be expected in such shootings.

Jeff Spivack, an expert in forensic video analysis, found no evidence of breaks in continuity in the video, no additional video layers, and no evidence of image manipulation.

“Given these conclusions, and in light of the persistent flow of other allegations of extrajudicial executions by both sides during the closing phases of the war against the LTTE, I call for the establishment of an independent inquiry to carry out an impartial investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed in Sri Lanka,” stated Mr. Alston.

He added that there are a small number of characteristics of the video which the experts were unable to explain, including the movement of certain victims in the video, 17 frames at the end of the video, and the date of 17 July 2009 encoded in the video (the conflict was officially declared over in May 2009).

“Each of these characteristics can, however, be explained in a manner entirely consistent with the conclusion that the videotape appears to be authentic,” noted a news release also issued today.

“In sum, while there are some unexplained elements in the video, there are strong indications of its authenticity. In addition, most of the arguments relied upon by the Government of Sri Lanka to impugn the video have been shown to be flawed.”

In a separate development, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has informed the Sri Lankan Government that he is considering the appointment of a Commission of Experts to advise him further and to assist the Government in taking measures to address possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told reporters that the UN is in regular contact with the Government regarding the implementation of the joint statement issued in May at the conclusion of the Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka.

In that statement, Mr. Ban had underlined the importance of a comprehensive accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and the Government undertook to take measures to address grievances of the victims of the conflict.


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