Cricket amid war crimes unpunished
Cricket’s vast achievement in Sri Lanka today is to have conjured a blanket of turf, leather, and willow that saves most of us from having to think of Sri Lanka in any other light. But elsewhere on this sumptuous isle there is a bad light that stopped play altogether – play amongst the children women and men who died in the closing weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The beguiling, tiny, round, ground at Galle in the south is as far from the Jaffna Peninsula as you can reach without leaving the country altogether.
The English cricketing authorities plumped to resume ‘business as usual’ in a country which is facing international excoriation in the light of a growing mountain of evidence pointing to horrific war crimes.
Amid the sweat, the heat, and the romance of this colonial ground, cricket has ensured that a whole world of sport is absorbed in a game, whilst the fate of up to 40,000 civilians (UN expert panel estimate) slaughtered on fields on the very same island lie unaddressed and largely unmentioned.
It is just three years since the Sri Lankan military herded 120,000 Tamils into an ever decreasing ‘no fire’ zone. Every time the Tamils moved, they moved their ragged shelters and their makeshift clinics with them. As in all war, the International Red Cross identified the clinics to the ‘other side’ to safeguard them from bombardment. That ‘other side’ was the government side, whose shells rained down on the fragile facilities. As the military shrank the ‘no fire’ zones, so the shelling and bombing intensified.
By the end, the United Nations estimates that up to 40,000 women, children and men lay dead. The Tamil Tigers are not blameless of course – the UN’s expert panel found credible evidence of war crimes on either side, but the vast majority of deaths were caused by government shelling.
Widespread access to simple mobile phones ensured that many Sri Lankans recorded what happened – either as fleeing Tamil refugees, or as triumphant soldiers recording the trophy footage of their own abuse, raping, and killing.
This is the footage that contributed to Channel 4‘s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields – War Crimes Unpunished‘.
In normalising life as soon as possible, the cricketing authorities have been joined by the leaders of the Commonwealth, who have decided to hold their 2013 meeting in Sri Lanka. The leaders have chosen to ignore the UN Human Rights Committee vote calling upon Sri Lanka to investigate the evidence of war crimes thoroughly and hold those responsible to account. That Commonwealth meeting will be presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
And who is he? The evidence laid out in the ‘Killing Fields’ documentary points to the direct involvement of Mr Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence minister, in the massacre in the closing weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war. They have yet to be properly investigated – the Sri Lankan authorities categorically reject the evidence and the allegations as ‘malicious’. For the two men at the top of Sri Lanka, ‘normalisation’ cannot come fast enough.
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