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Sri Lanka Execution Video Authentic, UN Expert Says (VIDEO)

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 04:10 PM ET

(AP) UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. human rights investigator said Thursday that a videotape of an apparent execution of blindfolded and naked Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers probably is authentic and called for a war crimes investigation.

Philip Alston did not specify who should undertake his recommended investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of human rights allegedly committed in Sri Lanka.

The government's 25-year war against Tamil Tiger rebels ended in May, with U.N. reports saying more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the final spasm of fighting as government forces closed in.

WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Tamil civilians were trapped in a sprawling tent city along a northeastern coastal strip of this Indian Ocean island nation. Only months after winning Sri Lanka's brutal civil war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is locked in a bitter election contest against the former army chief.

Rajapaksa, a war hero among the Sinhalese majority, is ironically competing for Tamil votes – and dividing Sinhalese loyalties – vying against retired Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who led the army to victory and is a surprise candidate.

Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, told reporters that his review of the videotape, based on the work of three independent forensic experts, showed that most of the arguments used by the Sri Lankan government to impugn a video released by Britain's Channel 4 television were flawed.

The TV station released the video footage last August showing what appeared to be the summary execution of Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers. The video had been shot by a Sri Lankan soldier in January 2009 using a mobile phone, according to the group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government said it concluded the video footage was fake, but Alston said the reports by three U.S.-based experts on forensic pathology, video analysis and firearm evidence "strongly suggest that the video is authentic."

The experts concluded the footage of the apparent shootings showed the use of live ammunition, not blank cartridges, and there was no evidence that the images of two people being shot in the head at close range had been manipulated.

Alston, however, said there were some unexplained elements such as the movement of certain victims in the video, 17 frames at the end and the date of 17 July 2009 encoded in it. But he offered some speculative reasons for why those could be explained away.

The U.S. State Department has accused Sri Lanka's government and the rebels of possible war crimes in the killing of civilians during the fighting that ended in May.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky backed the need for such a probe, saying Thursday that Alston's conclusions show "the need for a credible, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of human rights and international law by all sides in the conflict in Sri Lanka."

An earlier call by the U.N.'s top human rights official, demanding an independent investigation into atrocities allegedly committed by both sides in Sri Lanka's civil war, has produced scant results.

Last May, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told an emergency meeting of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council that investigation was needed into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians resulting from intense fighting between the government and Tamil rebels.

Pillay said the Sri Lankan government had an obligation to respect humanitarian law at all times, even when fighting terrorism. But a majority of the 47 countries on the council, which has no enforcement power, appeared unwilling to heed her appeal for a war crimes probe.

Sri Lanka, which has strong support in the 47-member council, proposed a resolution of its own stressing "the principle of noninterference in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states."



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Filed by Nicholas Sabloff  |