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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.

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Siobhain McDonagh’s researcher

After the meeting held recently in the House of Commons, a young man who claimed to be Siobhain McDonagh’s researcher (and also to work for the Bank of Scotland, during a later conversation) agreed to send me video footage of attacks on hospitals. He claimed he had a lot, and this substantiated a clip he had prepared of Dr Shanmugarajah saying that the Sri Lankan forces were attacking the hospital at which he was working.

Predictably he did not send me that footage. That decision was, he said, after careful consideration, which I could understand. I suspect that footage was what had been supplied to Channel 4. We know from that meeting that Siobhain McDonagh had been in touch with Channel 4 over the making of its film. It would certainly have been very telling if material for that film had been supplied to Channel 4 by her researcher, after which she claimed that the film was an objective account on which she based her allegations against Sri Lanka.

Fortunately her researcher, Canaa as he told me his name was, or Daran as he signed himself in and then emailed me, could not let well alone. In addition to sending me the clip of Dr Shanmugarajah talking, he sent me two more clips. One was gruesome, and seemed to be of the dead body of a soldier being carried by fellow soldiers talking in Sinhalese. It dwelt horrendously on his mutilated face. I could see no reason for this except triumphalism, to be used perhaps as propaganda, to show how effective LTTE terrorism was.

Daran however told me, when I asked him, that he had obtained the clip from a site selling film clips made by Sinhalese soldiers. When I asked him how much he had paid for this, he said he had got it free, as a sample. I think the story most unlikely, because it is extremely unlikely that fellow soldiers, even if filming the bringing back of a dead body, would have dwelt quite so ostentatiously on a mutilated face.

Even more suspicious was the second video, that of what seemed to be an aerial attack. The first part had planes flying and smoke rising, but the main substance was the footage of wailing over dead bodies. Some of the wailing also seemed exaggerated and false, but that is of course a subjective view. Clear was the fact that nothing actually connected the latter pictures to the former, and it seemed clear to even an amateur eye like mine that there had been a great deal of editing.

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Philip Alston – Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Amongst the many absurdities in the Channel 4 saga is the complete impunity enjoyed by Channel 4. In August 2009 it showed a video which led to an immediate response from Philip Alston, the Earlier Christof Heyns. Alston’s initial letter, which was accompanied by a press release, was immediately responded to with a request that he investigate the video which Channel 4 had shown, since it was not clear whether he was asking the Sri Lankan government to investigate the video or the incident depicted on the video.

Alston typically dodged the question, and went into a long spiel about how my response was ‘equivalent to a police officer telling an alleged victim that no investigation will take place until the victim can definitely prove to the officer’s satisfaction that the alleged crime took place’. This was the sort of obfuscation Alston specializes in, because I cannot believe that a Professor could not tell the difference between asking someone who reports a crime for further details and asking an actual victim. Indeed Alston’s density or low cunning became more apparent when he subsequently claimed that the situation was similar to that in which ‘an individual was beaten up or raped and reported the matter to the police, but because of the trauma suffered was unable to identify when or where the alleged assault took place’.

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At the height of campaigning for the Sri Lankan Presidential election, Prof Philip Alston issued a missive regarding the Channel 4 video which I read with great interest. He reported there that he had finallly engaged three experts to check on the authenticity of the video he saw on Channel 4. This was something he should have done a very long time ago, well before he rushed publicly into the matter. Indeed I noted in my initial response to him that, almost as soon as we got the letter, we were also ‘sent a press release which you had had dispatched to our Mission in Geneva at 15.37 on that same Friday afternoon, a release which seems to make your letter redundant.

Alston is therefore disingenuous in claiming that he was going public with his latest effusion in early January because of ‘the very public nature of the comments already exchanged on this matter’. He it was who had showed a determination to go public from the very start, for reasons that even he must realize are obvious, just as the January salvo seemed intended to have maximum effect at a time of election.

That original letter had not been at all clear about what was to be investigated, as I noted, viz ‘Your letter refers to reports you have received “concerning the alleged summary execution of a significant number of men by the Sri Lankan army”. Have you received reports of such an alleged incident, or are they simply reports of video footage allegedly documenting this alleged incident? Any independent report should be conveyed to us at once but, if your report is only of the video footage, it would be best if you first sought further details about this, to help to establish whether an investigation of the alleged incident would serve any purpose.’

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2019
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