GENEVA – A U.N. human rights expert says gruesome new footage from the final days of Sri Lanka's civil war is authentic and proves war crimes took place there, challenging the government's claim that videos showing the army executing captured rebels in May 2009 are faked.
The U.N.'s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings says the five-minute video obtained by Britain's Channel 4 corroborates an earlier, shorter video showing blindfolded, naked men being shot dead at close range.
"What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes," the U.N. investigator, South African law professor Christof Heyns, said in a report released Monday to the global body's Human Rights Council.
Heyns said he reviewed the footage showing the apparent execution of unarmed men and women with technical and forensic experts. "The overall conclusion reached by the experts is that the video is authentic and the events reflected in the video footage occurred as depicted," he told the council
Sri Lanka's government has maintained that the video is not real.
"We don't accept it. We have proven beyond any doubt that this is not authentic," said Lakshman Hulugalla, director general of the government's Media Centre for National Security.
He added, "if they say this is authentic, then they should get an authentication certificate from a reputed institution to prove that it's not fake. So far, no has submitted such a certificate on this."
The new footage is expected to re-ignite debate in the Geneva-based body about a Sept. 2009 resolution that effectively endorsed the Sri Lankan military's crushing of the Tamil Tiger rebels after decades of civil war, despite claims of war crimes by human rights groups.
The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told the council Monday at the opening of its three-week meeting that it should "reflect on the new information" and reconsider the resolution.
Her comments were echoed by diplomats from western countries including the United States.
"This Council must consider the serious abuses that have been documented and brought to our attention by the panel," said U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.
"Sri Lanka must quickly and credibly address allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict, no matter which side committed them," she added.
But African and Islamic members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council moved to quell any attempt to reopen the debate on Sri Lanka's conduct at the end of the war.
"The international community must support national efforts to win the peace in Sri Lanka," said Pakistan's ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has a powerful presence in the council.
Akram said a recent report by the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "primarily based on second-hand information that was never verified."
The U.N. report claimed Sri Lankan government forces deliberately targeted civilians and hospitals, and blocked food and medicine for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone. It also accuses the Tamil Tigers of recruiting child soldiers, using civilians as human shields and killing those trying to flee from their grip.
Ban has said he would need a mandate from either the Sri Lankan government or the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, Security Council or General Assembly in order to initiate an international inquiry into allegations of war crimes by both sides.
The U.N. estimates that between 80,000-100,000 people may have been killed in the war, including at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians killed in the last five months of the conflict.
UN expert's report. Warning, contains graphic pictures of violence: http://bit.ly/iKus0m