Video investigation by Colombo not impartial - Alston

[TamilNet, Friday, 18 September 2009, 02:17 GMT]
Noting that two of the four experts cited by the government were full-time government employees, another had previously acted on behalf of the government, "and the basis on which the fourth was identified and selected as an expert remains unclear," Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said Thursday, that studies could not be characterized as impartial. "The only way to do this [authenticate the video] is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place,'' Alston said. The video clip, aired in British Channel-4 TV, allegedly showing Sri Lankan troops executing Tamil prisoners stripped naked and hands tied behind backs, has shocked the world community, and re-ignited calls for investigations of war-crimes against Sri Lanka military.

Philip Alston
Alston's rebuke of Sri Lanka's 'independent' experts has effectively negated Colombo's hurried attempts to contain the damaging impact of the video, and thrust the burden back on Colombo to have the forensics carried out by "demonstrated experts who can be shown to be fully independent of the Government concerned." Compliance to "United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions," was also noted as necessary.

Alston also noted that no original reports were available from three 'experts,' and the fourth originated as an opinion piece on Island, before declaring that findings cannot be characterized as impartial.

Full text of Alston statement published in UNHCHR (United Nations High Commission on Human Rights) website follows:

Professor Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council today issued the following statement:

I have been requested by the Government of Sri Lanka to issue a public statement in response to the latest information provided by the Government in relation to the Channel 4 video which purports to show extrajudicial executions being carried out by the Sri Lankan Army. I have carefully reviewed the various briefings and statements made by the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, which are essentially based upon a detailed "Consolidated Response" issued by the Government to the local and international media on 7 September 2009 and to the diplomatic community the following day. The Government's response was summarized in the Minister's statement on 15 September 2009 to the Human Rights Council in which he stated that "four separate investigations have now scientifically established beyond any doubt that this video is a fake."

I welcome the fact that the Government is now devoting considerable attention to this issue. The legal obligation incumbent upon a Government in a situation such as this is to undertake a "thorough, prompt and impartial investigation."* My role as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions is to evaluate whether the investigations undertaken have met the relevant criteria established under international law, and to advise the Human Rights Council accordingly.

I can attest to the fact that the investigation has been "prompt" since it was completed within two weeks of the information becoming available.

I am not, however, in a position to conclude that it was "thorough." I have not seen the original version of three of the four expert investigations. The fourth of the investigations seems to have originated as an Opinion piece in The Island newspaper, and was subsequently elaborated upon. It is not clear whether or not this was at the Government's request. The statement provided by the Minister summarizes "observations" made by the remaining three experts in presentations made at a meeting convened by the Government for this purpose. I would welcome the publication of the full text of the analyses undertaken and reports presented by each of the four experts.

The third and most important question is whether the "four separate investigations" meet the criteria of impartiality. I would note that two of the experts are members of the Sri Lankan Army, the body whose actions have been called into question. A third report is by Dr. Chathura De Silva, BSc Eng Hons (Moratuwa), MEng (NTU), PhD (NUS), Senior Lecturer, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa, who has advised the Government in relation to a number of other similar issues in the past. And the fourth is by Siri Hewawitharana, a broadcast media specialist based in Australia, who is said to be the former head of Cisco's global broadcast and digital video practice. No other information has been provided by the government on Mr Hewawitharana, but it would appear that he is a member of a network of Sri Lankan Professionals. I would welcome more information on how he was identified and selected by the government as an independent expert.

Based on the limited information available to me, it is impossible to conclude that these four individuals, given their relationship to the Government, meet the criteria for impartiality in this context. When the actions of a Government are called into question in a matter of this gravity, what is required is to undertake an investigation by demonstrated experts who can be shown to be fully independent of the Government concerned. Two of these individuals are full-time Government employees, one has previously acted on behalf of the Government, and the basis on which the fourth was identified and selected as an expert remains unclear. I must conclude therefore, on the basis of the information made available by the Government, that the investigations undertaken cannot be characterized as "impartial".

The final question that remains is whether the information provided by the Government raises significant doubts as to the authenticity of the video. On this question, my conclusion is that the views expressed do indeed raise several issues which warrant further investigation before it could reasonably be concluded that the video is authentic. The only way to do this is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place. This is all that I have called for. Such an investigation might well conclude that the position adopted by the Government is fully warranted. I would welcome that outcome very warmly, and I hope that the Government would do likewise.

Related Articles:
12.09.09   Executions: Sri Lanka refuting processed video, not original
28.08.09   Horrendous video images indicate violation of International ..
26.08.09   SLA war crimes eerily similar to Srebrenica Scorpions' terro..
25.08.09   Video shows style of extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka

External Links:
Island: Channel 4 video: The technical truth
UNHCHR: Sri Lanka should permit an impartial investigation into the 'Channel 4 videotape', says UN expert
Channel-4: Sri Lanka steps up death video rebuttal
Channel-4: Execution video: is this evidence of 'war crimes' in Sri Lanka?
Island: C – 4 video dubbed, gunshot sounds added
UNHCR: Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions
CBS: UN Expert Urges Impartial Probe Into Sri Lanka Video
NYT: UN Expert: Sri Lanka Video Needs Impartial Probe
UN: Sri Lanka should permit impartial probe into alleged execution video – UN expert
Island: Tigers' Plan B and presidential polls
Channel-4: Footage reveals Sri Lanka camp conditions
Channel4: Investigating claims of Sri Lankan ‘war crimes’
Island: It's war crimes stupid!
Island: Renewed international campaign to tarnish Sri Lanka’s image – Yapa
SLMission: Sri Lanka government proves that the Channel 4 video is fabricated


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