For International Day of the Disappeared Amnesty International has produced a video looking at the disappearance of five young men in Janakpur, Nepal. Known as the ‘Dhanusha 5′, the men were taken by security forces in 2003 at the height of the ten year civil war and never seen again. Their remains were recently exhumed by the National Human Rights Commission by the banks of a river. The police investigation into the killing has never progressed and no one has been arrested or prosecuted for this grave crime.
You can take action here.
Following on from Channel 4′s documentary on alleged war crimes committed by both sides in Sri Lanka during the end phase of the civil war, the Sri Lankan government has upped its propaganda offensive.
The BBC’s James Haviland reports that the government is now analysing the footage shown by C4 (as well as the UN Human Rights Council) that appears to show security forces executing prisoners in order to prove it had been tampered with. The focus is on the sound track – with the C4/UN version having Sinhala being spoken and the government’s version Tamil. The accusation is that members of the LTTE dressed up in Sri Lankan army uniforms and committed the atrocity. Last week the UN claimed that two independent experts both ruled that the video and audio had not been tampered with.And so the claims and counter claims continue.
It is easy to dismiss the Sri Lankan government’s rather biased propaganda rebuttal as an obvious attempt to muddy the waters. A look at the Ministry of Defence web site will reveal a long and detailed critique of the C4 piece, though none of it is particularly convincing in countering the basic accusations of war crimes. We may feel that very few will accept its analysis as objective, and so feel the authenticity of the footage will stand up to these assaults. But in Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia the government’s campaign will have significant traction. And although its allies at the UN will not be fooled they may just rely on this ‘evidence’ to quieten calls for an inquiry into alleged war crimes.
Trophy footage shot by security forces – though morally repugnant – can often be the only direct visual evidence of the human rights violations that took place. Governments will bust a gut – like the Sri Lankan’s are now doing – to discredit damning evidence (or put it down to a few ‘rotten apples’). In these situations the veracity of accusations of crimes will begin to rest on such evidence (as opposed to witness testimony) and so the undermining of such evidence can have a far reaching impact on your campaign. It is thus vital that you are on solid ground with such footage before you put your wait behind it. Whether the footage C4 and the UN have in this case is authentic I can’t say. I suspect the Sri Lankan government’s claims will be weak and find little support but will be enough to sow seeds of doubt amongst a receptive audience at thome. My experience of the Sri Lankan government’s propaganda machine (including pro-government media) suggests they are willing to tell blatant lies despite them being easily rebutted.
C4′s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ can be viewed here.
Obviously, some countries are more attractive than others as places to live, though much will depend on where you are from and what you like. However, some are not predisposed to peaceful, easy living. But even in the most economically destitute places on the planet the picture is far more nuanced than is often represented in the media. Case in point, Foreign Policy’s ‘Postcards from Hell.’ The piece takes an ever so fleeting look at 60 of the world’s top ‘failed states’ (they even get a numerical rating ranking how fucked they are). For each we get one photo and a paragraph describing the country’s wows. Mainly focussed on African and South Asia in includes some places that currently have or have had in the recent past some troubled times. But rather than shed light on under-reported conflicts and poverty it just slaps a huge ‘FUCKED’ label on a host of vastly different countries and situations (sometimes even whilst admitting things are on the up).
But the problems don’t end there. Some of the countries included on the list are highly questionable – Bhutan? Exactly how is this a ‘failed state’? If you are going to list it then at least mention the 100,000 people who were forced to leave and have now lived in Nepal as refugees for 15 years. Or Bangladesh, admittedly not without problems but has made good progress in recent years. And Nepal, experiencing post-conflict political difficulties, but at least they are ‘post-conflict (and FP, no serious analyst on Nepal at the moment thinks the Maoists will go back to war). I could list more – the point being, what is this list trying to achieve? Show people in wealthy countries that despite the ‘Great Recession’ that things could be a lot worse?
In this piece FP have demonstrated exactly how NOT to do a foreign correspondent photo piece. It provides just enough info to add to the over simplified images perpetuated by much of the media on these parts of our world, but not enough to show the complex, and often positive, side of things. Certainly, individuals who feature are characters, composites of poverty and violence. No lives are explored and revealed. I am surprised there wasn’t an accompanying map with big red crosses just to show us where not to go. Nonsense.
Meat and potatoes video from Amnesty International, but no less powerful for it. This timely video comes in the week the UN panel investigating allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes in the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war published its report. However, it has yet to be made public. Whether it is and whether it will result in an international commission of inquiry being establish is another thing.
AI are running an action linked to this video here.
At 9.45am on 8 January Sri Lankan photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe will give a presentation of his work ‘People in Between‘ at Yalamaya Kendra, Patan Dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal.
‘People in Between’ documents the civil war in Sri Lanka. The exhibition is displayed in the same hall that houses a permanent exhibit of Nepal’s own war photos, ‘A People War‘.
Well, it is fair to say that I haven’t been as active a blogger this year as last. Returning to full time work is the main reason. However, I have also been working on a photo book in my spare time. Although a rather modest project I am rather pleased with it. Basically, I went back to the village in Nepal I taught at 13 years ago to find my ex-students and see how the intervening years (and ten year armed conflict) had treated them. From that microcosm I look, through pictures and text, at contemporary Nepal – a poor country sandwiched between India and China, struggling to deal with sweeping social change.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.
During the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006) many people were subjected to enforced disappearances by state security forces or abductions and unlawful killings by members of the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M). When the peace process began both sides committed to addressing these past abuses. There was much expectation that those responsible for these crimes would be held to account. However, years on, not one person has been tried in a civilian court, nor has the promised Disappearance Commission of Inquiry been established. The powerful remain above the law and those who lost loved ones still do not know their relatives fate nor where their remains are buried?
Working with Purnimaya Lama, whose husband was abducted and killed by the Maosits, and a local photographer, Nayan Tara Gurung Kakshapati, and producer, Kari Collins, we set to produce a multi-media piece that clearly showed the painful limbo that so many relatives continue to live in.
It was important that Purnimaya was able to tell her story, in her own voice, not so much of what happened but more of how her life is now. For there are those who want to move on, who think dragging up the past and holding people to account for their actions endangers the peace process. But what about the peace for those who lost their loved ones?
Amnesty International’s aim is to use the piece to motivate and drive people to an on-line action aimed at the police, calling on them to stop blocking investigations. In addition, photos shot with Purnimaya are being used in several local media outlets around the International Day of the Disappeared (30 August), and some public events.
We encourage you to take action and spread the video across your networks.
As this is the first of what could be a series of pieces we would very much like to hear your comments and suggestions.
The documentary film ‘Sari Soliders‘ directed by Julie Bridgham is a compelling account of the lives of six women during political turmoil in Nepal. From diverse backgrounds and ‘sides’ within Nepal’s civil conflict, the film follows them through historic and life changing events.
The plan is to hold community screenings across Nepal followed by discussion programmes to facilitate reconciliation. The producers are working with Amnesty International and the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). If you are interested in organising a screening click here.
A week or so back I wrote on how there needs to be a re-think on the representation of conflict survivors in Nepal. So, it was with some interest that I came across this article in the Nepali Times on the ‘Through Our Eyes‘ project. A collaboration between CWIN-Nepal (working for children’s rights) and Roving Eye Film, it looks to help young people who were involved in the armed conflict in one way or another. The project provides training in digital video production and editing, working towards public screening.