Mr. Tom Whipple (Journalist): I am reporting from The Times, I’ve got two very good questions, the first is, thank you for inviting us to come and visit Sri Lanka  because as you yourself know you have not granted any visas to journalists from The Times and to me personally and you say this after a year where you personally refused my visa to visit Sri Lanka to write of all things a travel piece about visiting newly opened hotels My second question is, I watched the Channel 4 documentary this morning in preparation for this. I got slightly confused. The key allegation from gathered evidence was as far as I can tell the video footage of assassinations and Tamils being tortured. I think after your video showed happy people doing basket weaving, you seemed to imply that that was video footage taken by LTTE soldiers pretending to be Sri Lankan soldiers speaking in colloquial Sinhalese shooting LTTE soldiers. Is that the correct interpretation of your position, and the key allegation in the film?

H.E. the High Commissioner: I’d like to hand that question over to Professor Wijesinha but first just one point, I did not personally refuse any visas because I was not here until the first of September (Mr Whipple subsequently apologized for his mistake)……

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha: There has been a lot of discussion about media access, some of us were very strong advocates of letting all the media in in 2009, and I’m glad we did so because a lot of the papers there reported extremely accurately and I think it helped us a lot because of the Indian situation. There were some politicians in India and some here in Britain who were up for elections and wanted to take political advantage, but we were able to refute some of the allegations because of the Indian papers, which reported very fairly. Immediately after the operation some Indian reporters were up there with the troops to report.

But the flip side for instance is a chap called Jeremy Page of the Times who I think deliberately twisted things. He called me to my office, and there was an Indian journalist there, and he stayed since they were similar questions. You should have read the two articles, the Times and I think the Deccan Standard, the same interview, and one glass was half empty and the other half full.

I went to India a few months after the war and the High Commission in Delhi was issuing visas but they did not issue visas to the Times and the Guardian. The latter had a man called Gethin Chaimberlain. I asked Jeremy Page, why do you tell lies, about supposed UN claims which the UN had specifically reported, and he said that he was told by some people in the UN that their bosses were too close to the Sri Lankan government and they told us these things.

I told him then what he should write is that certain people will disagree with their superiors and make certain revelations which the Times thinks are true, but it is not the UN that says these. One claim was specifically refuted by I think John Holmes, the British head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.

Gethin Chamberlain wrote in The Guardian – there were about four instances in which The Guardian corrected what he said subsequently – that 13 women  were found with their throats cut near the Manik Farm Welfare Centre. I asked the UN protection agency what is the basis of this? They said nothing, no basis at all, not even one such incident. Gethin said he realized the story was not true, and that he could not rely on the source he got it from, but he would not correct the story.

I asked every agency that got money for protection of our people for their reports. They had not been preparing these regularly, they just got money from the UN, a  hell of a lot of money paid by tax payers, and all we heard were generalizations, but I got reports every month, and there were no allegations of this sort. I probed further for anything of this nature, and I got a letter from the UN protection head saying there were 3 incidents. First it was reported a soldier followed a woman into a bathing area and the people shouted and chased him away. Second there were reports of prostitution in one place, Pompaimadu. Third, it was reported that one soldier went into the tent of a woman at 11pm, theywere joined by another woman, and he came out at 3am. These were the only three incidents reported by the UN.

This is all that was found with all the reports they were getting, but then we had this allegation in what is supposed to be a respectable newspaper of 13 women with their throats cut. I don’t know if any of you have read Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ it is a very chilling story, about how corruption spreads, and takes over those who start with good motives. I am reminded of this with regard to what is happening now. Many people think the story is about brutality in Africa, others realize it is more about Kurtz, the white man who turns to evil ways, but then, just as you are happily distancing yourself from all that, the story ends with the description of the river that connects London to ‘the heart of an immense darkness’ – and we are reminded of Marlow’s opening remark, ‘And this also… has been one of the dark places of the earth’.

The heart of darkness reaches everywhere. We are trying to move forward, things go wrong, we have to correct them. But the continuous support for a terrorist agenda is something that worries us. Part of that agenda is that this is something for Britain to settle, but there is no knowledge here of the facts. There is myth, going back to Channel 4 and the particular incident you mentioned, which I agree is the most serious allegation, there is evidence of manipulation which I will deal with. But the film contains much else which is nonsense, there are claims for instance of a plethora of civilian casualties, of hospitals being shelled deliberately. We have the documents from the ICRC with information as to which hospitals had shells falling in them , there were just 4 incidents I think in the first six weeks of the intensification of the conflict, which is far better than anywhere else in such situations, and this was when the LTTE was bringing weapons into those areas. I have the information from the ICRC as to the cases in which they gave us coordinates of the hospitals that are alleged to have been shelled, we have letters from the ICRC about humanitarian assistance that is described by them as disciplined and kind on the part of our navy personnel. Contrariwise, the Darusman uses the adjective ‘disciplined’ only to describe the LTTE. This type of glorification of terrorists for wicked deeds, as opposed to recognition of the kind deeds we did, sometimes makes one very upset. We fight against continual support for terrorist agenda whether it is intended or not, I will leave you to decided whether or not to grant such purveyors of support the benefit of the doubt.

I have explained this because I think you need to understand what this film is about, the same situation as Channel 4 puts from a more detailed perspective. Sadly Channel 4 does not care about the harm that has been done to Sri Lankan people and unless that is looked at a bit more objectively, we will see them continuing to suffer….

HC: I’ll pass to Professor Wijesinha to comment on various proposals. Actually he has written a very interesting book regarding this and I’d just like him to spend a few minutes talking about it.

RW: This is the second book I’ve written since the war and I think in one sense the Darusman Report was helpful in that it provoked us into telling our story. I appreciate the proposals made by Lord Sheikh, because I agree that me must now go forward. Unfortunately we have a lot of people that have stopped us going forward with various agendas. In terms of the investments that he was talking about, we are looking to working together with investors from here as well as the government, but in trying to promote economic development in the northern  areas, which I think should be a priority, one of our real problems is that some of the terrific attacks on Sri Lanka in the past year have been designed to stop that process. They naturally raise emotions amongst people here and create more difficulties for the reconciliation process, and provide reasons for the people here not to want to be involved in Sri Lanka. We’ve done a pretty good job so far though of course things can get better, we would like to encourage greater involvement of Tamils but as we move forward we must remember what the Tamils suffered because of the LTTE and we have to ensure that that is not going to be repeated. And for this purpose too there are many areas where Tamil support is very important, and I am glad I found very positive views amongst many in the Tamil diaspora here and in Australia and New Zealand, which initiatives like Channel 4 are trying to destroy.

This book which I’d like to talk about has the title ‘The Road to Reconciliation’ because that is our priority, moving forwards. Yesterday I spoke on reconciliation and challenges to a group of Sri Lankan lawyers, which had Tamils too, and I stressed the first section of the book. I hope you all read it including members of parliament who said some strange things that were quite untrue in the recent debate in the House of Commons.

The second section is a series of short accounts with regard to the separate  concerns expressed about Sri Lanka, massive slaughter of civilians, attacks on hospitals, sexual violence, depriving people of food and drink and the treatment of surrendees, the last of which I think needs to be looked at carefully, whereas in the other instances there are no clear allegations or evidence. I’ve put all the things together here, including a section on the Channel 4 videos. I should say that I think UN experts read these and realised that this is a very strong refutation of Channel 4 claims.

Channel 4 Reporter  Zoë Sale:  Have you got proof of that? About UN experts, what you just said about them accepting the refutation?

RW: I said I just think they have heard about this and they appreciated the accounts.

ZS: I don’t think that’s what you were saying at the start of it.

RW: What did I say at the start of it is recorded.
ZS: You suggested that potentially they might be able to change their mind about any of that.

RW: No, what I said I said is they appreciate what I have written.

ZS: Okay, so you’ve sent it to them have you?

RW: No I have not and that’s why I’m surprised that they read it.

ZS: So they contacted you and said that they’ve read it

RW: No I have mentioned what they said to others after reading it.
ZS: Sorry I should have introduced myself, I’m Zoë sale the associate producer of the Sri Lanka  killing fields
RW: Yes, I thought that must be the case.
ZS: How did you know that?
RW: Body language, you seemed someone suspicious.
ZS: Will they change their mind?
RW: I don’t know, but I believe they found what I wrote most interesting.
ZS: I’ll be interested to see if he changes his mind
RW: I was just saying there was appreciation of the points I made.
ZS: You seemed to be intimating that he changed his mind

RW: I think the point you are making is valid because some people will cling to their views whatever the evidence. But whatever those views, as Lord Sheikh said, we must move, and a political settlement is particularly important. There are discussions going on with the TNA and we have a two track system, one is discussions with the group with the largest number of elected representatives from the North, and I must say this has been extremely positive. But I think they too appreciate that we have to talk to others too, for unfortunately agreements between government and the main Tamil representatives have come to nothing on three occasions, in 1958, 1968 and 2000.

That is why we have also set up a parliamentary select committee so that we will have full ratification for the process. I think the important thing that we need to recognise is that all the people of the country support the government in its plans to move forward through discussion. Meanwhile we must continue too with the development process, registering what is done, noting shortcomings and seeing how those can be corrected in various ways. I think the work that has been done so far to develop some areas in the north, which some of you saw, is remarkable, but I’ve always said that you also want work in human resources development. My recent visits to the North have made it even more clear that we need much better educational facilities in the deprived areas of the country, and that’s one area in which I believe British support would be invaluable. So I hope that we can work together with all of you, including members of the diaspora, to move through such initiatives towards a brighter prosperous future

Mr. Rajan York: I myself have visited Sri Lanka and visited the north and the east. And I think its very nice to hear that you’ve actually been there and seen for yourself. It is very important before we pass judgement that we actually go back to the country and speak to the people from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west and see for ourselves what is really happening in the country.

HC: Families that had not been to Sri Lanka previously are taking holidays to Sri Lanka, that is very heartening. The critical thing that I have seen throughout my lifetime has been the deficit in what people actually see and understand living here. I was wondering what would be your target and what can be done at a local level?

RW: What is particularity important is better communication between different communities I think one of the problems that we have is that, because people didn’t travel for a long time, they were crystallised in the attitude of 20 years ago and we have to be sympathetic to the Tamils who came after ’77, ’81 and ’83, there were attacks on them and you know, if I had suffered like that, then I would have also been very bitter and brought that bitterness to my children. We must show those who suffered that nothing of that sort happened after 1983. But equally I found in Australia and sometimes here but to a lesser extent that many are now willing to move forward. But some emotions are very strong and they shouldn’t be. Most Tamils are not tigers and are moderates, just like the Sinhalese or any other people, perfectly capable of living together. But people must overcome not only prejudice but manipulation. I argued very hard some time back for a party from the Royal Commonwealth Society to come to Sri Lanka, young people who were trying to work together, and they did well initially but, because of things like Channel 4, the emotions of the people that they spoke to have been heightened. So cooperation is more difficult, and some of the people pushing recrimination have succeeded in stopping cooperation.

We have been trying to overcome this, we have been trying to get Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim people to realise aberrations have happened but we can’t let our emotions get the better of us. If the young people can get involved with this process of reconciliation, we can perhaps push a more pluralistic agenda and look to the future. We need to recognise the people who suffered in this case were the Tamils, and with building up their lives again I think all young people would help. I think we need to show them how things are moving well for most people. For instance, I have suggested issuing the statistics of the number of people who have come back to Sri Lanka who have travelled to the north, it is very impressive, I looked at the figures. So people are coming back and looking at the place and appreciating it, the see their old schools and they stress the need to work with young people. In education England has a unique gift to offer, which is the English language, and I think people in the north would appreciate that.

Daran, Researcher for Siobhain McDonagh: First of all I would like to say the Channel 4 clip is very distasteful and what was most distasteful about that was also we had some British MPs who knew what was going on. Also I want to say to Zoë and Tom thanks for being here, very brave of you both to be here today the truth is out there, thank you.

I’d like to ask you, why are you just showing a video here, could you please explain to us by showing this video to the west and opposing Channel 4 what you get? And why don’t you allow independent international inquiries into Sri Lanka because the western world wants that, but you are simply just showing a video here and just claiming to tell the truth or whatever, but I just wanted to find out why you don’t allow independent international inquiries into Sri Lanka, and please don’t tell me the LLLRC is going to look after that, because if the LLLRC is going to be all right, you won’t be here at all because you don’t have to show these videos here. Could you please explain?

RW: That is a very interesting question, but the way it is put shows exactly where you are coming from. The Western world wants an interntional inquiry so why don’t you have one? I do not understand why Sri Lanka should do what the western world wants and thinks is right. Now, the reason that we do not think what you describe as an independent international inquiry is needed is that we have already had evidence of the reality of what the world supposes is independent. We are supposed to believe Siobhain McDonagh is independent, that Channel 4 is independent. But everyone is dependent on someone or something as we can see there, we were just told that she cites Channel 4 but had claimed responsibility for what they showed.

What we have said from the very start is that, if prima facie evidence is brought forwards of any form of crime, we will have an investigation. I can say I have looked at what Channel 4 says, and compared it with the documentation we have, and  there is no primary evidence at all with regard to killing civilians shelling hospitals, starving the population and not providing medical supplies, and rape and sexual abuse. However, I am not so sure with regard to certain incidents, for instance the White Flag case, I believe those should be looked at further, and we can ask for further evidence to be provided if available. But with regard to the Channel 4 documentary, though I didn’t quite get the question of the Times person, I think it was suggesting that the most serious part was the alleged treatment of civilians and torture.

Tom Whipple: The most damning parts of the film were the executions caught on film and the apparent torture of the LTTE.

RW: Yes, I have mentioned the need to look into what happened to surrendees in the White Flag case, but with regard to the alleged torture, it’s interesting because when I was in Australia they showed me pictures. They questioned me for about 45 minutes, having sent me the pictures that morning. But I looked at the pictures and I noticed something odd. It’s really interesting the technique that some journalists use, though I’m sure the Times does not behave quite so badly. There were 3 sets of pictures and in one set it seemed there were Sri Lankan soldiers and a dead body, and I said well, this could be Sri Lankan soldiers with the body but nothing connected them to the manner of death. Then there was a single picture of a boy hung by the neck which I found pretty horrifying, but there was  nothing connecting it with anything else. But the third set of pictures was awful, they were the same thing we saw on Channel 4, and I agree this is pretty horrifying. But what I said on the TV interview was, if you look at the people in uniform they may be soldiers, but there are a couple of pictures in which you see people wearing Bata slippers. I don’t know that Sri Lankan soldiers would have had Bata slippers in the field. But all that was omitted in the interview. You see I think what happened was that the first picture was that of Sri Lankan soldiers with the dead body, and they were expecting me to deny that, and then when I denied the third set of pictures, they would have claimed they could prove I was lying.

I don’t know if this lady who is here from Channel 4 was responsible for the first video. They claimed that this was an incident that happened on January 18th and we should investigate it and they would not give us the video, but we checked what they showed and we proved that the metadata said it was made on July 17th. Then Channel 4 showed another clip which had dead bodies vanishing, the first scene has 18 dead bodies, next 14, next there’s 4, and I thought that was very strange. Now that was sent to the UN to be looked at – the first video was not sent by Channel 4, when we asked for the video Channel 4 did not give it to us, when the UN asked for the video, Channel 4 did not give it to them because they say in their documentation that they got this from an institution called Journalists for Democracy. Now Channel 4 had said this was made on a mobile phone initially, and shown direct, but the UN experts denied this, on record they said the reason for this discrepancy was that in fact the video shown by Channel 4 was edited and edited backwards. What was filmed first was shown third, what was filmed second was shown second, they got that right, and what was filmed third was shown first. The fifth episode, one expert said that it was filmed at a different time, the other said it was filmed at a different place. Now the question is, why was it edited backwards?

Mr Daran: The video was not edited at all, it was saying all the time it was authonticated and Channel 4 has a certificate for that.

RW: But whom was it authonticated by?

Mr D: It was probably authoenticated by the computer experts.

RW: Which computer experts?

Mr D: Channel 4 has got it, they have actually shown me the certificate.

RW: It’s all very easy to say it’s authonticated whatever that means, but who authenticated it?

Mr D: Ask Channel 4, they can provide you the certificate.

RW: I’m not asking Channel 4, I’m asking you. Anyone who makes a statement must tell me the reason for that statement, that’s all I’m asking. If you say its authenticated then you must say who authenticated it, if you can’t what you’re really saying is Channel 4 says it is authenticated and you believe them.

Mr D: I didn’t say that.

RW: Quite. Well, let me tell you what the UN experts say, and I quote – this is Grant Fredericks who was first hired by the Times – ‘the first four statements were actually recorded in the following order… segment 3, segment 2, segment 1, segment 4’. They say it was edited, possibly by a mobile phone. If Channel 4 wants to say it was not edited and UN experts say it was edited, may I suggest that you go and read up all the documentation carefully, and then tell me whether you believe Channel 4 or you will get other experts to authenticate it and come and tell me. But we are not going to engage in wild goose chases on such evidence.

Intervention – This gentleman over here said Tamil terrorists, you know Sri Lankans don’t fear Tamils, they also fear Tamils who are terrorists….

RW: The point you made is very valid and I would ask my friends not to use it, the term Tamil terrorist is inappropriate. I think we all have to be really careful distinguishing between Tamils and terrorists, you know we do not talk of the Sinhala terrorists when we talk of the JVP in 71 and 83, so I think we need to be very careful. Your point is very valid because not all Tamils are terrorists, so we must change that mindset, and we all of us Sri Lankans must make the point, terrorism had to be got rid of to protect the Tamils too, that is absolutely vital. I think your second point about not letting the media in is actually not correct, most of the media are allowed in. I had 2 Swiss media reporters recently and I argued very hard for the media in 2009 and I’m very glad I did so, but I can see why many people feel some types of reporting are damaging. But we must realise that the media as a whole is  not responsible for rogue elements. It’s like the UN. You know, Jeremy Paige told me the UN said this when he knew it wasn’t the UN, it was individuals in the UN who disagreed with official policy. Then Gethin Chamberlain said various things happened, but they didn’t. The trouble is the press that is nasty does not give us a chance to respond. Repeatedly the High Commission here has asked Channel 4 to interview me but they won’t. In 2009 when I came here Channel 4 refused, fortunately on the BBC Breakfast Show early morning – I had not known the show was so popular – at the end of it they thanked me  and I said you shouldn’t thank me, I should thank you for giving me a chance unlike Channel 4. And then Channel 4 rang almost immediately I had left, why did you say we didn’t want to interview you? Because it was true, you said you couldn’t have me. No, no, they said, we weren’t sure we had a time, but yes we would like you to come tonight, and the press officer made me go, he made me do 10 interviews in one day, and I said I’m tired and he looked at me and said very cheerfully, ‘But they’re all asking you the same questions’. So I did the session with Channel 4 and answered them and since then they have never allowed me to speak. The so called free media doesn’t want free comment. Now I ask some people, when they want to interview me, whether it can be live, and when they don’t agree, I ask if I can have an unedited tape of what I say, then even if they edit it, I know they can’t distort too much.

I’ve learnt we have to be very careful about that type of thing. Back to your final point, that reconciliation should be with accountability, I think accountability is necessary but not retribution. If you look at all the histories of successful wars, successful conflicts resolved, you have to have justice of course as we discussed yesterday, at the meeting of the Sri Lankan Lawyers in London. But if you look at the two examples given to us, one is South Africa. South Africa was where a rather wicked group of people had an apartheid regime which was sadly supported by so many countries. Finally, someone like Mandela managed to make a change, but he thought it was necessary to put behind any recrimination against the South African whites who had behaved badly under apartheid, so all that happened was that they had to confess their sins, and there was no retribution. Another example held up is Cambodia, where you had a ghastly regime that was defeated, and those who were defeated got support from the West so it was only after many years that there were questions of recrimination. But I think some of that is just disgusting, and I do not think we should engage in recrimination with the defeated, so for instance we are simply going to release after rehabilitation most of the former cadres who surrendered. We will not punish them since they were poor kids that were conscripted by the LTTE to kill us.

With regard to our own men, if we look at the allegations that are made, they’re such gobbledegook. 40,000 killed is absurd. One point I’d like to make very clear is that as head of the Peace Secretariat, I would get every day reports of  allegations from TamilNet, and I would monitor them, and ask the forces about any incident that I thought was untoward.  I can assure you that from the beginning of the operation till the end of 2008 there were about 460 air raids and in only 29 of them were there even allegations of civilian casualties. They were very careful, and members of the other forces said they would identify targets for the air force but they said they won’t take that out because it was near a village. Of those 29 incidents 22 were of just one or two killed. And in case you think my statistics are wrong, Tony Birtley of Al Jazeera – he is a responsible journalist, he may criticize us and we may disagree, but if he says something there is a reason for it, he does not just make things up – and he said the information I had was similar to what he had got. So I ask, how dare people claim our forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks, how dare people say we shelled hospitals when the ICRC figures show very clearly that hardly any shells fell in hospitals. These claims are disgraceful, though I don’t want to embarrass the young lady from Channel 4 by asking her if she stands by the  claim their video wasn’t edited

Zoë Sale:  I’m not on the Panel so I do not need to answer.

RW: I quite understand, which is why I said I would not embarrass you by asking. But this young man believed everything you showed, even though it is clear in that second video that the fifth segment was taken at a different time according to one expert, another says it was at a different place. There are plenty of such issues with this material. How dare they come up with such lies?

But to go back to your point, I think we have to understand what happened and understand how in South Africa Mandela taught his people to forgive. Indeed they forgave so much that one leading light in the apartheid regime, who was an advisor to the terrorists in Angola was the person who provided a lot of information to the UN Secretary General’s Panel. Then that guy called Benjamin Dix, who featured on Channel 4 – 3 years ago I told the government of Sri Lanka this guys tells lies and he will be recycled at some future stage and sure enough he was. So I think we have enough evidence of a deliberate attempt to destroy a country trying to move towards peace and togetherness, but I do welcome the point you made that we have to remember that all my friends, Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim, must work together against terrorists and I hope against extremists on all sides.

Finally, I think we need to continue to look into terrorist funding, and what is being done with the funding collected by those who helped the LTTE. In the past, a great deal of money was used on weapons, and I think most of the money the ex LTTE people have now is used for other things. It’s used to help politicians but there should be greater transparency about this.

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