An independent United Nations human rights expert has called on Sri Lankan authorities to thoroughly investigate the apparent execution of several men by Government soldiers, saying a disputed video of the incident seems to be authentic.
Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, described the killings shown on the video – whose authenticity has been contested by the Sri Lankan Government – as “textbook examples of extrajudicial executions.”
In the video, which first appeared on British television, naked men are shown being placed with their hands behind their backs. They are then shot through the head from behind.
“Our findings are that these executions really took place and that has to be investigated further to establish who did it and what was the context,” Mr. Heyns said in an interview yesterday, a day before he presented his findings in Geneva.
“I do think a broader process is necessary to establish whether these are crimes against humanity [or] possibly war crimes that took place,” he said, adding it was important to determine if the killings were part of wider pattern of systematic attacks against civilians or prisoners of war.
In his report to the UN Human Rights Council he said that “what is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order – definitive war crimes,” although he stressed that further investigations need to be carried out.
Mr. Heyns said experts in forensics, medicine, ballistics and video and audio concluded that the executions depicted in the video did take place, reflecting the findings last year of his predecessor, Philip Alston.
Speaking to the Council today, Sri Lanka’s representative Mohan Pieris said the Government had been precluded from making a full assessment of the video because of the blurred quality of the images.
He said it was important not to rush to conclusions, noting that media outlets, human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were often quick to report on incidents during conflicts which result in the deaths of civilians without finding out the legal basis for military operations.
Last month a UN human rights panel found there were credible reports that both Government forces and Tamil rebels committed war crimes during the final stages of the civil war that ended in May 2009, and urged that further investigations be carried out.