A number of former UN staff based in Sri Lanka during the conflict appear in the documentary and seem troubled by their experiences. How do you view the role of the UN both during and post-conflict?
There are in effect three actors in the dock here: the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE and the United Nations. The UN failed considerably during this war; it failed to prevent the slaughter of civilians, it failed to maintain an adequate presence and to put sufficient pressure on the Sri Lankan government to make a difference.
The Panel of Experts’ report has called on Ban Ki Moon to set up an international mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ban Ki Moon has said that he doesn’t have the authority to set up such a mechanism, which some people dispute, but if that’s true, then clearly it falls to member states to do so via the Security Council, Human Rights Council or the General Assembly. If justice is to be done, as the Panel of Experts calls for, then it’s incumbent on the international community to ensure that is the outcome.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In the past weeks you have shown the film to UN and national diplomatic staff in both Geneva and New York – how did that come about and what has the response been?
Well this came about in cooperation with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and I suppose our report has come to have some role in the discussions around the Panel of Experts’ report and the debate around the UN’s next steps, and I think that’s why there was such interest in seeing the film both in Geneva and New York. We know that Ban Ki Moon has a copy of the film, and I’d be surprised and more than a little shocked if he hasn’t watched it.
China is Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor and is seen to be protecting Sri Lanka at the UN. Some analysts looking at the region say that the West should tread carefully in pursuing the Sri Lankan government over war crimes. They cite the example of Burma, which has ended up isolated, alienated from the West and under the influence of China. What do you make of that view?
Well this isn’t just an issue for the West, however you define it. This is a problem for the international community, whether that is India, China, the United States, Russia or any other actor. They need to ensure that justice is done. If they fail to do so, one certain lesson of history is that the tragedy will repeat itself. It is really in no-one’s long term interest, including China’s, to prevent the kind of justice that would enable long-term stability and economic growth in Sri Lanka.
Callum Macrae is a journalist and filmmaker who has worked extensively in the UK and other countries – most recently in Japan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Sudan, Congo, Iraq and the US. He has reported, filmed and directed many award-winning television documentaries for Channel 4, the BBC, PBS in America and Al Jazeera English. He writes regularly for a number of papers and journals including the Observer, the Guardian and The Times.