The Film SouthAsia (FSA) Festival was recently held in Kathmandu from October 3-6 and I had wanted to attend a number of the screenings. I had read in one newspaper that the Government of Sri Lanka had requested the Government of Nepal to ban three Sri Lankan films, including No Fire Zone, documenting alleged war crimes at the end of the almost 30 year old civil war. This naturally piqued my and other's interest. The FSA organizers response to the proposed censorship was:
"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." This is "an action that goes against the freedom of expression and the right of documentary filmmakers to exhibit their work."
The Sri Lankan Government had also previously asked the Malaysian Government to ban the showing of No Fire Zone. Len Hendry of the Malaysian Human Rights organisation Pusat Komas appeared in court and was charged with organizing the screening. She faces a maximum of three years in jail if convicted.
In its description FSA describes No Fire Zone as:
"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 that the total could have reached 70,000 or even more. No Fire Zone also examines the role of the Tamil 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 zone from doing so-even, on occasion, shooting at those who tried."
As the audience watched the film one could hear a pin drop, seeing the piles of dead bodies and heartbroken people from losing their loved ones in a No Fire Zone where they thought that they would be safe. One could also feel the anger rise up within one's body from the constant on screen lying from government officials and a variety of what seemingly appeared to be crimes against humanity and genocidal actions.
Much has been written about the Sri Lankan civil war especially on the blog site Channel4, and there is no need for me to repeat this, but it does seem apparent that for whatever reasons, Sri Lankan government officials will not be brought to trial without the world witnessing films such as No Fire Zone.
Unfortunately genocide is nothing new and one can only ask why one group would want to eliminate another. As a person brought up in the Jewish faith, a group somewhat prone to genocidal actions throughout its history, I felt a great deal of sensitivity as I watched No Fire Zone. But one doesn't have to be part of an ethnic group that another group wants to wipe out in order to feel a sense of sickness when seeing video of people being killed, all one has to possess is a sense of humanity.
Should it really matter whether I am Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or a Tamil, Hutu, Tibetan, Kurd or part of an indigenous population? Does possessing power and weapons completely corrupt others to the point where they want to ensure that they can stay in power, whether through "democratic", oppression or other violent means?
As human beings we are all capable of talking a good talk, to the point where we believe in the lies that we put forth, even if these are fully contradicted on screen through eye witness reports and documentation. This is exacerbated as we get others to believe in our lies even when it means murdering innocents, those just wanting to be left alone and live a peaceful life.
In fact we can make a difference if we are willing to stand up for what we know is inherently right, i.e. focusing on the survival of the human race, no matter who we are.
The 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 15 to 17 November 2013. Commonwealth leaders agreed on Sri Lanka as the 2013 host for the meeting when they met in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009. They reaffirmed this decision at the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia. The Leaders' Retreat will also be held in Colombo.
The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, stated that he would not attend the meeting as a protest of Sri Lanka's failure to improve its human rights record, as he said he would at the previous CHOGM; Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, will represent Canada. Harper further elaborated that Canada may cease its contributions to the funding of the Commonwealth should no action be taken by the organisation against Sri Lanka; he cited the impeachment of the country's chief justice and the execution and imprisonment of journalists and political opponents of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. At the time, Senator Hugh Segal, Canada's envoy to the Commonwealth, exclaimed that the Commonwealth Secretariat was acting "as a 'shill'" for Sri Lanka's government. In the United Kingdom, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee called on that country's Prime Minister, David Cameron, to not attend the meeting in light of Sri Lanka's human rights record. However, Cameron later affirmed that he will be in attendance.
The Charter of the Commonwealth is a charter setting out the values of the Commonwealth of Nations as well as the commitment of its 54 member states to equal rights, democracy and so on. It was adopted on 19 December 2012 and was officially signed by Queen Elizabeth II at Marlborough House, London, on the Commonwealth Day on 11 March 2013.
A total of sixteen core beliefs are drawn up in the charter, namely, democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers, rule of law, good governance, sustainable development, protecting the environment, access to health, education, food and shelter, gender equality, importance of young people in the Commonwealth, recognition of the needs of the small states, recognition of the needs of the vulnerable states, and lastly, the role of civil society.
Take a stand and ask your government officials to watch No Fire Zone and make their own judgments. No government is excluded from harming its or the citizens of other countries, however when our government officials ascribe to a document such as the Charter of the Commonwealth, shouldn't we as citizens pressure our elected officials to represent us to stand by their signatures? Should censorship by government officials be the law or should we as citizens, having full "human rights" ensure that we can speak our own truth, as long as we are not hurting others?
At the end of the movie, during the Q&A, a young Sri Lankan man attempted to say a few words, but he was so overtaken by the images in the film, that he could only choke up. I was so incensed and I asked what could be done? One response was to ask the EU not to provide aid to the Sri Lankan Government. However, my response is to ask you to see No Fire Zone and ensure that the "truth" is brought out so that there might be some justice, however late, however small, in another genocide in the world, this time in Sri Lanka.