Welcome to the No Fire Zone Blog which we will be updating with news and events on a regular basis so please keep coming back for updates
Channel 4 News broadcast shocking new footage showing Tamil Tiger Newscaster, actress and singer Isaipriya. The Sri Lankan government had always claimed that Isaipriya was killed in combat. However this new footage shows that to be a lie. In this shocking footage it shows Isaipriya at the point of her capture. She is alive and apparently uninjured. The Sri Lankan government must explain why how she came to have been sexually assaulted and executed whilst in their custody. Watch the news item here http://www.channel4.com/news/fate-of-tamil-actress-chilling-new-evidence-from-sri-lankaContinue reading
The Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival held earlier this month gave its audience award to No FIRE ZONE: THE KILLING FIELDS OF SRI LANKAContinue reading
Following the Sri Lankan governments attempts to stop the screening of No Fire Zone and two other films from Sri Lanka interest in the films has grown significantly.
A review of the film in the Nepali Times described it as “Brilliantly put together..journalistically sound..an absolute must see” (read the full review)
As a result of the Sri Lankan government's attempts to stop the screening the organisers held TWO screenings - both to packed houses. Thanks to Film SouthAsia for their refusal to accept this attempt at censorship. And thanks to the people of Nepal who attended the screenings in defiance. The truth will out.Continue reading
Once again the government of Sri Lanka has tried to prevent an international screening of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, this time in Nepal. Once again they have failed because of the determination of defenders of human rights and free speech.
Yesterday the Nepali authorities gave the organisers of the Film Southasia festival just 24 hours notice that they must not show No Fire Zone and two other Sri Lankan films in their festival as planned.
Film Southasia issued an immediate statement: “We announce with great regret that the Sri Lankan Government has pressurised the Nepali authorities to stop the screening of all three documentaries from Sri Lanka selected for the Film Southasia ’13 festival.” They described the attempted ban as “an action that goes against the freedom of expression and the right of documentary filmmakers to exhibit their work.” The other two films were shorts by the respected Sri Lankan/British documentary maker and photographer Kannan Arunasalam.
Despite this attempt to ban the films the organisers have announced that No Fire Zone will now be screened at a private venue, at Yala Maya Kendra, Kathmandu, Nepal, on Sat 5 Oct 6:30pm
No Fire Zone is a devastating indictment of the Sri Lankan government's role in the massacres at the end of the Sri Lankan war. The culmination of a three year long investigation, it contains a mass of carefully authenticated evidence – including video, photographic and eyewitness accounts – of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the last few months of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
It describes, in harrowing detail, how in January 2009, the government of Sri Lanka encouraged thousands of Tamil civilians to gather in series of what they called "No fire zones" - and then subjected them to deliberate, sustained shelling. They compounded this by deliberately denying adequate supplies of food and medicine into the area. No-one knows how many died, but one UN report suggested it could have been as many as 40,000. A later Un report suggested the total could have reached 70,000 or even more. No Fire Zone also examines the role of the Tigers in the tragedy revealing how the agony of the trapped Tamil civilians was further compounded by the Tigers who refused to let those who wanted to leave the zones from doing so - even, on occasion, shooting at those who tried.
This new attempt to ban No Fire Zone follows a similar move in Malaysia where a screening of the film was raided by between 30 and 40 members of the Malaysian Censorship Board and police officers – again on the instigation of the Sri Lankan Government. However they did not succeed in preventing the screening.Last month Lena Hendry of Malaysian Human Rights organisation Pusat Komas appeared in court and was charged for organizing the screening. She faces a maximum of three years in jail if convicted.
In protest over the attempts to silence the film another Malaysian organization Lawyers for Liberty, screened the film again. Yet more screenings are now planned.
Following attempts to stop the Nepalese screening No Fire Zone, the film’s Director, Callum Macrae, issued the following statement.
"Once again the Sri Lankan government has shown its true colours. While telling the world that it is investigating the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity – it is in practice mounting an international campaign to deny the truth and silence the witnesses. Film South Asia deserves every credit for refusing to stop the screenings, instead moving them to another venue.
“The Sri Lankan regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers is determined to suppress the evidence of these crimes and their responsibility for them. That is why the Sri Lankan government wants to stop the world seeing our film. From the UN to the European parliament, from Malaysia to Nepal they have tried to stop the screenings. I am glad to say they have never succeeded.
“In Sri Lanka itself they are desperately trying to silence any critics. Military repression of the Tamils in the north of the country is ongoing. The Tamil homelands are being ethnically re-engineered by plantation of majority Sinhala families and soldiers. Land grabs are rampant. In the south anyone who speaks out against the regime is silenced. The independence of the judiciary is under attack. Journalists are being threatened and intimidated. Government supporters are now turning on other ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka – in particular, they are targeting Muslims.
In November the leaders of the Commonwealth will gather in Sri Lanka for the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
If those leaders want the Commonwealth to retain any credibility, they must not turn a blind eye to the crimes of their hosts – or their attempts to deny the truth and silence their critics.
For our part we pledge that we will continue to take this film around the world – and we will continue to tell the truth about what happened. "Continue reading
No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka is a shocking feature documentary exposing some of the worst war crimes of the 21st century. The feature-length documentary tells the story of the last 138 days of the Sri Lankan civil war. It represents the culmination of three years of journalistic investigation which began with Channel 4 News’s exposure of atrocities committed by government forces at the end of the war. The film also addresses the culpability of the Tamil Tigers, themselves responsible for committing war crimes and for preventing civilians from trying to escape the carnage.
Since 2009 there has been no independent judicial investigation into what happened and the Government of Sri Lanka continues to say the video evidence of war crimes is faked. A UN Panel of Experts reported to Ban Ki Moon that as many as 40,000 civilians may have died during the first few months of 2009 – mostly as a result of government shelling. A more recent internal UN review concluded the figure could be higher - 70,000 or even more.
No Fire Zone also brings this story up to date. This is still a live story – the brutal repression and ethnic restructuring of the Tamil homelands in the north of Sri Lanka continues – journalists and government critics are still disappearing.
When you announce that you are going to apply for media accreditation for a routine international political event like the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you don’t normally expect a rash of death threats – or to find a senior diplomat from the host country threatening on twitter that he will “make sure you don’t get a visa”.
But this year’s CHOGM is no ordinary event. It is being held in Sri Lanka - whose government is accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century. A country marked today by increasing repression of its Tamil minority and a brutal clamp-down on any government critics, particularly among the press and the judiciary.
When David Cameron controversially announced that he would be attending CHOGM despite calls for a boycott, Alistair Burt, the foreign minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, went on record to say: "We will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM”
The omens for that “guarantee” do not look good. Read the full story in the Press GazetteContinue reading
The Sri Lankan government still denies responsibility for the killing of up to 70,000 Tamil civilians at the end of the civil war in 2009. So why has it been chosen to host a Commonwealth summit asks Callum Macrae, director of a harrowing film about the massacre. From the Guardian Sept 2013
I have spent the best part of the last three years looking at some of the most terrible images I could have imagined. I've covered wars and seen some awful things, but few that could prepare me for the hours of video and mobile footage that emerged from the last 138 days of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger secessionists; a war that ended four years ago – and whose bloody denouement is the subject of my film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.
The film records what happened when the government of Sri Lanka told some 400,000 civilians to gather in what they described as "no fire zones" – and then subjected them to merciless, sustained shelling. We humans are good at reducing terrible massacres to statistics. We instinctively distance ourselves from the lost humanity represented by heaps of corpses or rows of dead bodies. But it is more difficult to avoid the anguish of those who survive... full article here
I write to you about a matter of urgent concern relating to recent events in Malaysia resulting from a screening of my feature documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.
This film is the latest in a series of award-winning films made by my team and I which examine the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides in the final months of the war in Sri Lanka. Our films on this distressing subject have won many awards internationally. They have been cited by the UN as having played a significant role in bringing these crimes to the attention of national missions to the UN and we were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as a result.
A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Malaysia as part of a tour which has involved public and parliamentary screenings in a number of countries, including, most recently, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. As you may know the film first premiered in front of 200 diplomats and country delegations at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March and future screenings are scheduled for a large number of counties including Argentina and India.
In Kuala Lumpur recently I attended a screening in front of a significant number of MPs in the Parliamentary building. The MPs had a very good discussion and resolved to continue to raise this very important matter both in Malaysia and in other international forums. But the events which took place that evening at a private screening in the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall came as a considerable shock to me and remain a matter of the highest concern to us.
Halfway through the screening I was astonished to be told that a large number – perhaps 30 or even 40 police and members of the government’s Censorship Board had arrived and were suggesting that the screening should be stopped. I have never experienced anything like it in any of the many countries, parliaments and international forums at which my films have been shown. I am aware that in countries around the world Sri Lankan Embassies and High Commissions have always attempted to persuade local organisers, including national parliaments, the UN, the European parliament and others to stop screening of the film. I am also reassured that in not one case has any of these governments or international assemblies agreed to do so. The principle of free speech would not allow then to succumb to such pressure. I have never known any government or other authority to do the apparent bidding of the Sri Lankan government in such a way as certainly appears to have happened in Malaysia.
What has always happened – as it also did in this case – is that the organisers invite the Sri Lankan embassy officials to attend the screening and put their point of view to the meeting. The fact that they did not turn up in response to the invitation in Malaysia is not the fault of the organisers I was even more shocked to hear that three of the organisers, from the NGO Pusat Komas, Ms. Anna Har, a member of KOMAS Board of Director, Mr. Arul Prakkash, KOMAS Executive Director, and Ms. Lena Hendry, KOMAS Programme Officer, had apparently been taken into custody for questioning and were then arrested. This appears to be a very clear breach of the Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
But now the news that the Komas Director Tan Jo Hann has also been asked to present himself to the Authorities – which he will be doing on the 22nd of July, is another cause for serious concern.
Can I register in the strongest terms my concern over these unwarranted measures to interfere with these honourable Human Rights defenders as the carry out their legitimate activities – activities protected under international law. Can I also ask that you urgently raise these concerns with the authorities in Malaysia as this kind of arbitrary and unwarranted interference with citizens acting entirely lawfully can only cause damage to the international reputation of Malaysia.
I trust that all proceedings against these individuals will be dropped as a matter of urgency and look forward to your response.
Callum MacraeContinue reading
Sri Lankan diplomat causes major embarrassment by telling Nobel Peace Prize nominated broadcaster that he will ‘make sure you don’t get a visa to come to Sri Lanka’ despite British government calls for a ‘guarantee’ of ‘full and unrestricted access for the foreign press’ at major Commonwealth Meeting
A prominent Sri Lankan diplomat - who was once the chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa - has launched an astonishing attack on Nobel Prize nominated film-maker and journalist, Callum Macrae, who is touring his film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Canada.
In a move that will embarrass both the British and Sri Lankan governments ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka this November, Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, Consul General in Sydney, Australia, has issued a series of abusive tweets specifically targeted at Macrae.
Calling him an ‘LTTE (Tamil Tiger) Terrorist from London’ only focused on profiting from ‘blood money,’ Jayasekara threatened to bar Macrae from entering the country: ‘I will make sure you don't get a visa to come to Sri Lanka.’
This is particularly embarrassing for the UK and Sri Lankan governments in light of pledges made by the UK when it controversially agreed to attend CHOGM - despite calls for a boycott. Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has stated unequivocally: ‘... we will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM,’ implying this was a condition of attending the meeting.
But Ambassador Jayasekara did not stop at threatening to keep Macrae out, in further tweets he contacted freelance PR agent Ranjit Perera and asked him to ‘track that LTTE tiger terrorist propagandist Callum Macrae and find how much $$$$ he earned so far.’
Macrae said: ‘This is a regime which stands accused of some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity this century - of course they don't want to be subjected to any kind of scrutiny at all.
Given that the UK government has said that free and unrestricted access to the foreign press attending CHOGM is effectively a condition of the UK’s attendance, I don’t see how the Prime Minster and Foreign secretary can now agree to attend.’
Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, said: ‘The tweets threatening to deny Callum Macrae entry to Sri Lanka to report on the Commonwealth conference tell us all we need to know about that country's respect for press freedom. It also throws into sharp relief the moral ambivalence displayed by the UK government in declaring it will attend. Alistair Burt's insistence that the Sri Lankan government guarantee free and unrestricted access for the media is simply incompatible with these remarkable threats from a Sri Lankan diplomat.
Ambassador Jayasekara’s comments came after Macrae was interviewed in a Sri Lankan daily, in which he announced his intention to attend CHOGM (as he also did at the last one in Perth Australia). But when that article was reprinted in the online Colombo Telegraph (20 June), he received threatening comments online from readers.
In response to Macrae’s remark: ‘I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me.’ One anonymous comment read: ‘Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.’
White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Macrae said: ‘Ambassdor Jayasekara's intemperate language - and his absurd suggestion that I am funded by terrorists - can only encourage the kind of death threats made against me in the readers’ comments section of the Colombo Telegraph.’
Comments in the online newspaper included one which said Macrae was welcome in Sri Lanka ‘only to go back in a coffin’. Another said: ‘Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe.’
Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime. He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009 as the government’s final offensive against the Tigers got underway.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that 25 members of the press have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1999.
Callum Macrae added: ‘There is no free press in Sri Lanka. Literally dozens of media workers and government critics have died, disappeared or been forced into exile in recent years. The government is increasingly repressive, even the judiciary is under attack and the war against the Tigers has been replaced by a silent war against Tamil civilians in the North.
Rajapaksa hopes that CHOGM can be used to suggest to the world that their crimes have been forgotten. If they go to CHOGM, despite these kinds of threats and the ongoing repression of Tamil civilians and government critics, David Cameron and the British government are in serious danger of becoming part of that cover-up.’
Australian Green Senator, Lee Rhiannan who hosted a screening of extracts of No Fire Zone in the Australian parliament, alongside her colleagues from the Liberal and Labor party, said:
‘These tweets shows the true face of the Sri Lankan Government or regime – and it could not be more different than the picture they want to show to the Commonwealth.
‘This a brutally repressive regime where anyone who speaks out against the government faces harassment and at worst death or disappearance. Far from reaching out the hand of reconciliation to Tamils in the North East, they are systematically repressing that community and denying them their basic human rights. Commonwealth leaders who intend to travel to Sri Lanka for CHOGM need to seriously ask themselves whether they can risk giving the appearance of endorsing this brutal regime.
The Consul General’s tweets promising to deny Mr Macrae a Sri Lankan visa are threatening, unprofessional and a real indication his country’s views on press freedom. His insinuation that Mr Macrae is involved in terrorist propaganda is outrageous.’
Macrae, is on the first leg of an international tour with No Fire Zone visiting New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Canada. It was Macrae’s arrival in Australia that seems to have most infuriated the diplomat.
CHOGM will take place in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo from 15 to 17 November. By hosting the biennial event Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, will become Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office for the next two years which puts him in the position of the Commonwealth’s leader in the pursuit of Human Rights.Continue reading
For the last two weeks I have been on a tour of four Commonwealth countries to screen the film: The first of a series on international screening tours designed to take the film to Commonwealth and other countries around the world.
This first tour included parliamentary screenings in Malaysia and Australia - although equally important have been screenings for the people who elect – and hold these governments to account. Thus we have had very successful screenings in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, as well as Canberra, Melbourne and Perth in Australia. At all of these meetings we had very committed and concerned Q and A’s and discussions afterwards. Many people spoke of their horror on discovering the true scale of the crimes and massacres which marked the end of this awful war. These screenings generated a lot of publicity and press coverage – including several TV and radio features – and I am confident will lead to renewed calls for action for justice.
We had two screenings in Sydney. One in the suburb of Silverwater was particularly memorable. That area is home to a large number of Tamils – and was attended by between 400 and 500 people, many of them Tamils who had lost relatives in the war. Some were survivors who had lived through it.
Watching this film is difficult in any situation. That screening was a powerful and painful experience and a reminder of the scale of the crimes during the war.
I next travelled to Malaysia where, yesterday we had one of our most successful parliamentary screenings yet. MPs were visibly shocked and pledged themselves to raise urgent questions in parliament about whether Malaysia should be attending CHOGM in November – and to renew their calls for an independent international inquiry into all the crimes committed in the final months of the civil war.
That evening the respected Malaysian human rights NGO Pusat Kumas hosted a screening of the film in the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. We heard that during the day members of the Sri Lankan Embassy had tried to persuade both the owners of the hall and Pusat Kumas that they should cancel the screening. They refused. The Malaysian government’s Censorship Board also contacted Pusat Kumas and told them to cancel the screening. They declined that too.
And so last night the screening went ahead. The hall was packed, I did a brief introduction and the film started.
I moved to a small side-room to do some work while the film was showing – intending to come back afterwards for the Q and A.
About five minutes later I heard a commotion outside and someone came in to tell me that around 40 police officers and members of the Malaysian Censorship Board had raided the screening. However they backed down from actually stopping the screening – perhaps fearing the outrage it would cause. My hosts advised me to escape by a side door, which I reluctantly did. At the end of the screening the police checked the ID of everyone there – and arrested three organisers from Pusat Kumas for questioning. Lena Hendry, Arul Prakash and Anna Har. They were held for several hours and then released on bail.
I have now left Malaysia as planned - I am en route to Canada to address the annual Tamil cultural festival tomorrow attended by 3000 North American Tamils. We also have a screening of the film.
However today the brave Human Rights defenders of Pusat Komas are holding a press conference about yesterday’s events. They asked me for a statement to be distributed at the press conference (see below).
We will obviously keep in close contact with Pusat Komas and let you know of any developments.
In the meantime it is only to be hoped that the Sri Lankan government will cease its endless attempts to stop the truth getting out.
STATEMENT BY CALLUM MACRAE, ISSUED IN MALAYSIA AFTER ARREST OF ORGANISERS OF SCREENING
I am the director of the feature Documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing fields of Sri Lanka.
The film tells the story of the last 138 days of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 and uses video evidence to show what happened when the Sri Lankan government declared a series of what they called “No Fire Zones” and encouraged several hundred thousand Tamil civilians to gather there where they believed they would be safe.
We show how the government then systematically shelled these areas – and also denied them adequate food and medicine. As a result somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 civilians are believed to have died.
Our film also contains brutal and distressing images shot by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last few days of the war. This trophy footage depicts a series of war crimes, including the cold-blooded execution of bound, naked, blindfolded prisoners. It also shows the aftermath of brutal sexual assaults on captured Tamil Tiger fighters who have been stripped naked and then shot.
The films I have made on this distressing subject have won many awards internationally. They have been cited by the UN as having played a significant role in bringing these crimes to the attention of national missions to the UN and we were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as a result
I came to Malaysia as part of a tour which has involved public and parliamentary screenings in a number of countries, including, most recently, New Zealand and Australia. Today I am travelling on to Canada for further screenings. The film first premiered in front of 200 diplomats and country delegations at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.
Yesterday I took part in a screening inside the Malaysian parliament, where MPs expressed very serious concern about the evidence the film contains.
Last night I was present at a screening in Kuala Lumpur. Halfway through the screening I was astonished to be told that some 40 police and members of the government’s Censorship Board had arrived and were suggesting that the screening should be stopped. I have never experienced anything like it in any of the many countries, parliaments and international forums at which my films have been shown.
I was advised to leave by a side door – and did so, although I have to say I was taken aback at this extraordinary attempt to silence a film which is seen around the world as such an important piece of evidence of war crimes.
I was even more shocked to hear that some of the organisers of the screening, from Pusat Komas, had apparently been taken into custody for questioning.
I know from the international reaction to this news already that human rights defenders around the world are also very shocked.
My intention in coming to Malaysia was to bring to the attention of the government here, the awful crimes of which the Sri Lankan government stands accused. The reaction from MPs to the film when they saw it in parliament demonstrated how powerful and important this evidence is.
It is frankly very disturbing that government authorities in Malaysia – instead of studying this evidence and then asking very serious questions of the Sri Lankan government about their responsibility for these crimes – instead seemed to be collaborating with the Sri Lankan Embassy (albeit unsuccessfully) in trying to keep this evidence from public view.
I hope that the government will investigate how this can have happened and will apologise the representatives of Pusat Komas. These kind of events can obviously be very embarrassing internationally, and I hope that whatever led to these extraordinary events will be investigated to ensure that nothing like this happens again.
Kuala Lumpur Thursday 4th July 2013
Initial reports of the raid are here:Continue reading
I am writing this in Addis Ababa on the evening of May 18th.
Tonight I was at a screening of the film as part of the Addis international film festival, here in Ethiopia.
No Fire Zone is never an easy film to watch - but to watch it today was particularly painful and sad. The terrible events that took place exactly four years ago today - the executions, the sexual violence, the torture - as well as the final stages of the massacre of innocent civilians - are brought home even more sharply by this fourth anniversary
But the message is getting through, I believe.
There are setbacks - like David Cameron's decision to attend the Commonwealth Leaders Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November - but I do believe we can still ensure that CHOGM becomes a focus for the campaign to tell the world what happened: A focus for the campaign for justice and an independent international inquiry into all the crimes committed in the last few months of the war.
Screenings like this one in Ethiopia are important. This is, after all, the home of the African Union. We had a very good discussion at the end of the screening and it encourages me in our campaign to get the film seen around Africa.
For Tamils around the world this is a day for mourning. But it should also be a day when all of us who believe truth is the first stage in the process that leads to justice reaffirm our commitment to telling the world what happened.
Callum MacraeContinue reading
Ten days ago we launched this appeal – we said we wanted to raise £20,000 in 30 days to help finance a campaign to take our film around the world: A film that we genuinely believe can play a vital role in making the world understand what happened in the first few months of 2009. But a film which we hope will also spread the word about what is happening today as any dissent on Sri Lanka is crushed.
We hoped that £20,000 could play a vital part in keeping the campaign going – as part of the £200,000 we aim to raise to keep getting the message out – at least until March 2014 and the next meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.
We have been given fantastic support outside the Kickstarter campaign. The Bertha Foundation helped finance the making of the film, alongside our other partners and supporters including Channel 4, WorldView, BRITDOC, the Pulitzer Center and Stichting Democratie en Media. But now Bertha and BRITDOC have given us further significant support for the outreach. Then last week we had other pledges, including from the web-based campaigning group Avaaz.
But the support for the Kickstarter campaign has been inspiring!
We are very grateful – and you have increased our determination – and our ability - to take this message around the world! And it is even more amazing that we still have 20 days to go, let's see if we can raise double our target!
Thank you all!
It is just over two months since we first showed the film at the UN in Geneva – and we thought it would be worth posting this summary of some of the key events in our campaign so far.
We began the campaign in India, because India’s position was absolutely critical at the UN Human Rights Council which was due to debate a resolution on Sri Lanka and accountability. We wanted to help put Sri Lanka firmly on the political agenda in India to maximize pressure on the government to both vote for the resolution and – hopefully – encourage as strong a wording of that resolution as possible.
Our first step was an OpEd piece by the film’s director, Callum Macrae – which he wrote for The Hindu (India's second largest and arguably most influential paper) – here:
At the same time we released two photographs of Tiger leader Villupillai Prabhakaran's 12 year old son, Balachandran, alive and in captivity prior to his execution.
The Hindu ran the story on the front page. It created a storm - and dominated the news agenda in India for the next few days – and is still an ongoing story today.
Within the next few days Callum did many TV interviews. This, for CNN India, is typical.
Three weeks later it was still the top TV story…
He also did high-profile pieces for the Times of India and various other papers and outlets, including a feature for the Independent in the UK. There were many dozens of follow-up stories around the world including Japan, several in the US (from the New York Times to the LA Times to the Miami Herald), in Rwanda, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, China and Singapore as well as India, Sri Lanka and the UK.
Here are a few links:
We followed The Hindu story with a press launch in Delhi. Producer Zoe Sale held several one-to-one meetings with senior political figures from several parties - and she was later joined by Impact Producer Joanna Natasegara for a press launch in Delhi with 20 minutes of excerpts, hosted by Amnesty India. Zoe did the intro - there was a panel of five (academics, human rights people, journalists etc). It was attended by around 200 people including over a dozen film crews, press politicians etc.
Callum delivered a filmed address:
…in which he stressed that this is not an academic exercise in accountability, but a vital and necessary process if we are to ensure that history does not repeat itself and that peace a reconciliation are possible.
The political controversy in India continues. Mass student protests and a hunger strike, were followed by a series of acrimonious debates in the Indian parliament. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu announced that the important Asian games – due to be held in India for the first time in 20 years (in Chennai in Tamil Nadu), would be cancelled if Sri Lanka attended. The DMK, (the rival Tamil Nadu party to the Chief Ministers), withdrew from the coalition government, demanding that the government take a tougher line on the issue at the UN Human Rights Council.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence issued a sinister statement calling on citizens to name those “betraying the country” by helping us make the film.
We responded with a widely reported rebuttal.
The eventual wording of the UN resolution – although watered down from its most forcible draft – is still seen by most informed observers as stronger than anything that had been expected a few weeks before.
To coincide with the Indian launch we also launched our website: NoFireZone.org
The website is a valuable resource which we intend to develop more fully over the next few months.
We have also created a facebook page and a twitter account @NoFireZoneMovie
After India the next key event was the third annual conference of the Global Tamil Forum held in the House of Commons in London on the 27th of February where Callum gave a short keynote address and presented a five-minute extract from the film. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was also on the platform and paid tribute to the film, saying it left him “reeling” as well as “shocked, distressed and moved”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband and Baroness Warsi of the Conservatives also gave short addresses. Miliband also paid tribute to the team and the film. A number of other prominent politicians were in attendance as well as key international figures like Erik Solheim of Norway – who was the chief peace negotiator in 2002 – 2006.
We also sent letters to the national missions of every member of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as their Embassies and High Commissions in London and have held private meetings with some of them and screened extracts.
On the 1st of March we held a breakfast briefing for the media in Geneva, followed by the first full screening of the film, which took place inside the UN’s Palais des Nations. It was hosted by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
The Sri Lankan government denounced the screening (indeed they tried unsuccessfully to stop it). It was however, very successful indeed. It was attended by as many as 200 diplomats and members of national missions (20 different missions were represented), as well as members of NGOs. The response was very strong. Many diplomats were visibly shocked and distressed by the evidence and we have been in touch with several since. We know that some changed their minds as a result of the screening.
At the end of the screening Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, arrived - made a 7 minute statement – and left again before there were any questions. The total silence which greeted his contribution – in contrast to the applause for the film – spoke volumes.
The screening concluded with a panel discussion with a number of participants including Yasmin Sooka – the prominent South African Human Rights advocate and one of the three members of Ban Ki Moon’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. The meeting was also addressed by Gordon Weiss the former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka during the last days of the war who also appears in our film.
The film was next screened at the Geneva Human Rights Film Festival which ran two extremely successful (and sold-out) screenings at the main cinema. These were both followed by Q and A sessions with Callum.
We’ve been working closely with Amnesty International both in London, India, Geneva and increasingly with other country offices. We also work with Human Rights Watch, the Sri Lanka Campaign, the Global Tamil Forum, key and influential individuals as well as the ICG and many other key actors to spread the message of the film.
We are working on a possible petition campaign in conjunction with our partners and CHANGE.ORG
While in Geneva – and after the UN screening – we were able to have private meetings with members of a few country missions and show them extracts from the film.
In the end the resolution that was passed – even with the compromises – was widely seen as very significant and stronger than anyone had expected – and we have been given credit for having played an important role in that.
The resolution formally mentioned (without specifically endorsing) the call for a credible international inquiry. It also ensured that the question of Sri Lanka will be on the agenda of the next meeting of the UNHRC in September (in the form of an oral report from Navi Pillay), as well as the meeting next March. Those meetings will now also become a focus for our outreach campaign.
One particularly significant event was the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which deals with serious or persistent violations of the Harare declaration, which outlines the Commonwealth's fundamental political values. CMAG consists of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Tanzania, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Maldives (currently suspended), Sierra Leone and Vanuatu. To the disappointment of many, it emerged that despite its apparent duty to encourage and strengthen the Commonwealth’s commitment to Human Rights, CMAG agreed that the that the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) will go ahead in Sri Lanka. This means that the Commonwealth will now have as its Chair for the next two years, a regime accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century so far.
The announcement that the Queen will, unusually, not attend CHOGM will be a disappointment to the Sri Lankan regime of President Rajapaksa and his brothers – though they will no doubt draw comfort from the attendance of the British Prime Minister and Prince Charles.
In March the film was an official selection at the Movies that Matter
Festival in The Hague. There were three screenings there, followed by a panel and a Q & A. Both were very successful – useful contacts were made including an approach from a Dutch MP which we hope will lead to a cross-party screening of the film in the Dutch Parliament.
Also in March the celebrated actor Rufus Sewell agreed to do our commentary, offering his services free of charge. His contribution adds significantly to the effectiveness of the film and we are extremely grateful for his help.
We are in the process of discussing options for making a shorter TV version of the film for distribution worldwide.
Screenings in the near future include one in London at the London School of Economics, organized jointly by Renaissance Chambers and TAG this evening Tuesday the 7th.
Then next week there will be a screening in the European Parliament in Brussels which Callum will address. Thereafter he will be travelling to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where the film is set to feature in the Addis Ababa Film Festival.
Planning has begun to hold a high-profile premiere in London – on a date yet to be confirmed. Plans are also advanced for a week-long tour of Australia in the last week of June.
Many of the relationships that were begun before India are now coming back into play with the team having conversations with over 15 countries to set up parliamentary, festival and public screenings of the film. From key CHOGM countries such as Canada, Australia and South Africa to other global players such as the US and Japan, we have good partners on the ground who see the film as a powerful advocacy tool to continue the campaign for accountability.
In the meantime we are continuing to raise funds so that we can keep the campaign going – hopefully until the meeting of the Human Rights Council in March 2014
In that context – if you have not already done so – can we encourage all our supporters to go to our Kickstarter campaign here:Continue reading
WHY COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY GENERAL SHARMA MUST SHOW LEADERSHIP ON SRI LANKA
Can I first apologise for the lack of blog postings over the past month – it has been a very busy time as we prepare to launch the next stage of our international outreach campaign.
This is a vital moment in the ongoing campaign for truth and justice in Sri Lanka.
Tomorrow, Friday 26th April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will gather in London. There they will discuss growing calls for the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) to be taken away from Sri Lanka. CHOGM is scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year.
The idea that CHOGM should be hosted by a regime accused of such serious war crimes is abhorrent to most people who believe and hope the Commonwealth should be a force for good – a community of nations working towards human rights and justice.
That the Sri Lankan government would then become the chair of the Commonwealth for the next two years is even more disturbing. A regime embroiled in an increasingly desperate and dishonest campaign to delay and deny the serious evidence of war crimes - and the growing international determination to call them to account – is in no position to defend the core values of the Commonwealth.
At this critical time for the Commonwealth attention will focus increasingly on the role of the Commonwealth Secretary General, Karmalesh Sharma.
Many will be looking to him to provide the kind of leadership which can strengthen the Commonwealth’s role in encouraging human rights, justice and an end to impunity.
He can ensure that this issue is confronted. Indeed many would argue he has a clear duty to do that. If the Commonwealth drifts blindly into allowing itself to be headed by a regime accused of such appalling war crimes and crimes against humanity it would be catastrophic. But I see no signs so far that Mr Sharma has any intention whatsoever of acting to prevent that happening. I hope I am wrong.
There is a curious Commonwealth procedure which provides for the Secretary General to exercise his “good offices” to resolve this kind of situation before serious action is taken. It is suggested that a two month period be allowed for that. Mr Sharma has been formally exercising his “good offices” for considerably more than two months now. And in that time things in Sri Lanka have got worse, not better. Repression of Tamils in the north has increased. Tamil newspapers have been violently attacked. A journalist from the Sunday Leader – whose founding editor was assassinated four years ago – has also been shot.
Now violently ultra-nationalist groups led by extreme Buddhist monks - tacitly endorsed by the President’s brother, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa - have launched attacks on minority Muslims. The country’s judiciary is in crisis following the politically motivated impeachment of the country’s Chief Justice.
Sri Lanka is rapidly sinking into a despotic morass – it is increasingly seen as a pariah state.
On Friday Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma will report on the question of Sri Lanka’s hosting of CHOGM to the members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) committee.
He owes it not just to the future of the Commonwealth, but also to its values of truth and justice – to ensure that CMAG discusses taking CHOGM away from Sri Lanka.
On the webpage of the commonwealth…
...we – the citizens of the commonwealth – are invited to put a comment or a question to Mr Sharma, by sending a message, with ‘Ask Sharma’ in the subject line, to this address:
I suggest that as many of us as possible do that over the next 24 hours. Lets make sure that today we ask him – politely and respectfully – what he intends to do about Sri Lanka and CHOGM. And if he believes that a regime accused of such terrible war crimes – and likely to be embroiled ever more seriously in such allegations over the next two years – is really fit to lead the Commonwealth.
The calls from around the world are growing. Last week 900 Commonwealth lawyers meeting in South Africa called for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth due to its breaches of the rule of law and of the independence of the judiciary, as well as the gross harassment of members of the legal profession.
That call has now been endorsed by the Law Society of South Africa and echoed by the International Bar Association.
The tide is turning – the calls for justice growing. The Commonwealth must not be left behind.
It has been a very busy and important week - and events in Geneva were very successful, I'll upload a fuller update on all of that in the next couple of days - but in view of a couple of recent reports in the Indian press in relation to the recent DMK demonstrations I did want to make one thing clear just now.
“I was telephoned at my home in England on Tuesday and spoke to DMK President MR Karunanidhi and Mr Stalin who, through the services of a translator, thanked me for making the film. In return I thanked them for their good wishes and explained that as a journalist and film-maker I was simply doing my job.
“Although I appreciated their kind words, I must stress that I did not express any views at all on the demonstrations in Chennai – indeed I only heard about those demonstrations for the first time today, a full day after the gentlemen called me.
I hope all people of goodwill will continue to call for justice and truth in Sri Lanka, and that is why I am happy to talk to people of all political parties - but as a journalist and film-maker I certainly would not want to endorse any one particular party, demonstration or political party meeting in India. That would be inappropriate, wrong and I would not do it. I am confident that the DMK and other parties and groups understand my position. "Continue reading
Callum will be writing up some news from the teams recent trip to Geneva but before then, he has issued this statement to counter the Government of Sri Lanka's statements today.
In relation to the statement apparently issued today from within the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence, I would like to make it clear that not
one person living anywhere in Sri Lanka helped us make this film.Furthermore we have not paid anything to anyone for any evidential
material or interviews. That is simply a fact.
What is even more astonishing and disturbing is that these threats come from government sources.
The eyes of the world are on Sri Lanka just now, as the UN Human Rights Council considers how justice and accountability can best be
ensured in Sri Lanka. Thereafter Commonwealth countries will also be considering their position in relation to Commonwealth Heads of
Government meeting scheduled to be held in November in Sri Lanka.
In a country which is under criticism for the high levels of disappearances of government critics, its attacks on the judiciary and attempts to silence journalists, these apparently government- sponsored threats are beyond belief. They can only further the determination of everyone who cares about truth and accountability to ensure that justice is done.
When our first film came out – and provoked angry denials from the government - Sri Lanka’s own former president, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said,: "continued denial of proven facts and abuse of our honest critics will not resolve the problem for
Open threats will resolve the problem even less.
I repeat again. No person resident anywhere in Sri Lanka helped us with this film. No-one was paid for any evidence or interviews.
If Sri Lanka uses our film to justify a witch-hunt, or worse, against anyone it perceives as a critic it will condemn itself in the eyes of the
NOTES TO EDITORS
Macrae was responding to a report published in the country’s biggest selling daily newspaper, the Sinhala language Divaina newspaper.
The report was also published in the English language Colombo Page online Newspaper
The article read:
Mar 05, Colombo: The Sri Lankan government is on the lookout for the people secretly supplying information to the Channel-4 television of UK, Sri Lanka's Sinhala daily The Divaina newspaper reported today.
The newspaper reported that the Ministry of Defense has requested from the public to inform it if they know about any person secretly
assisting the Channel-4 to betray the country.
The government suspects that certain persons are betraying the country for monetary gains.
Channel-4 continues to produce documentaries regarding alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka with the use of unauthenticated images claimed to
be received from the island.
Several exiled journalists calling themselves the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) claimed few years ago they provided a
video clip to Channel-4.
However, the Sri Lanka government has denied the authenticity of these materials.
The Ministry of Defense asked the public to provide information on people providing false information to foreign media outlets for monetary rewards
This is a blog published today which I wrote for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Like all crimes, it was all supposed to be conducted in secret.
In September 2008, as Sri Lankan government forces pushed the fighters of the Tamil Tigers further and further back into the Tamil homelands of the north, the government ordered the UN to evacuate their last few international workers from Kilinochchi, the Tigers' de facto capital.
The reason, they said, was they could no longer guarantee their safety.
The real reason was far less honorable: They did not want any witnesses to what was coming.
One of the UN staff, communications Officer Benjamin Dix, recalls how distressed and angry they felt. A mood which was not improved by the celebratory party the UN threw for them when they escaped the war zone.
“I remember feeling pretty disgusted by that party. I didn't see that there was anything there to celebrate. What we had actually done was complete abandonment of our duty of protection of civilians in a conflict situation,” he said.
The next day Dix resigned from his post. But even he had no idea just how catastrophic that abandonment was, how awful was the disaster that was about to befall the people left behind.
With the UN out of the region, with international media excluded and local journalists and critics silenced, exiled, disappeared or in fear of their life, the government felt ready to launch the final offensive.
On January 2, 2009, Kilinochchi fell. Between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians were on the run, fleeing further into the Tiger-held territory. But they were fleeing into a terrible trap – a trap which would see tens of thousands of them die, mostly (as a UN panel of experts later concluded) as a result of targeted government shelling.Continue reading