When governments impose onerous restrictions on the media, it generally followes that governments have something to hide. For example, four months ago the Sri Lankan government prevented the media and foreign observers from accessing the front lines of a military campaign against the Tamil Tigers. This campaign ended up killing at least 7,000 civilians, and was described as a “bloodbath” by the UN. The government has also banned media from military-run internment camps that hold some 200,000 ethnic Tamil civilians; camps the government says are necessary to weed out potential insurgents disguising as civilians.
Despite these restrictions, one mainstream news outlet, Channel 4 News in the UK, has managed to stay on top of this story. And in so doing, Channel 4 News has emerged as the most important English language news source covering one of the most under-reported human rights stories of the past year. In May, Channel 4 managed to sneak a camera into one of these internment camps. The report showed absolutely deplorable conditions under which civilians were being held. It showed the daily humiliation visited upon female prisoners who were forced to go naked before male guards and raised allegations of rape and chronic food shortages in the camp.
The Channel 4 producers were subsequently arrested and deported. But this has not deterred Channel 4 from staying on the story. Today, Channel 4 News obtained new, shocking footage of what appears to be summary executions committed by members of the Sri Lankan military. The video is hard to watch, but it raises further questions about the conduct of the Sri Lankan military in its campaign against the Tamil Tigers. These questions, so far, have gone unanswered. There is not, as yet, an accountability mechanism for the war crimes committed in the name of defeating the Tamil Tiger insurgency.