Compared to most of the terrible images which have emerged from the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s civil war, it seems innocuous. A young boy sits, like a child lost in a supermarket. He has been given some kind of snack. He is looking up, as though hoping to see someone he recognises.
The boy is Balachandran Prabhakaran, the 12-year-old son of Tamil Tiger leader Villupillai Prabhakaran, and the new photographs tell a chilling story. This child has not been lost of course: he has been captured and is held in a bunker, apparently guarded by a Sri Lankan Army soldier. In less than two hours he will be executed in cold blood – and then photographed again.
Last year in this paper I wrote about the video footage we had obtained of the aftermath of Balachandran’s execution, which had apparently been shot as a war trophy by Sri Lankan soldiers. These new photographs are important evidentially, because they prove that Balachandran was not killed in crossfire or in a battle – or even that he was executed by some maverick band of paramilitaries. His death was deliberate and calculated. The pictures fill in chilling details on the circumstances of his murder – and leave the Sri Lankan government with yet more questions to answer.
There are four new photographs in all – which digital image analysis indicates were taken with the same camera. Two show him alive – and two dead. The embedded information in the pictures places them less than two hours apart. The new photographs of his corpse corroborate the video footage and stills which we obtained last year and were analysed by a respected forensic pathologist, Professor Derrick Pounder. According to Prof Pounder, the speckling on his skin suggests he was shot at close range. The angle of the hole indicates that after that bullet was fired, the boy fell back and was shot four more times.
The analysis of the photographs concludes that there is “no evidence to indicate fabrication, manipulation or the use of effects to create the images” and concludes that the photographs “appear to be an accurate representation of the events depicted”. From the separate video sequence recorded later (which has also been authenticated by both digital analysis and a forensic pathologist), it is clear there were several military personnel in the area.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa may well continue to simply deny the evidence and cite the undoubted crimes of the Tamil Tigers. But the crimes of one side do not justify the crimes of another. It seems to most observers that the only way ahead is for the creation of a credible independent international inquiry into these events, as called for by the UN’s Panel of Experts – to examine the crimes committed by both sides.
Callum Macrae is the director of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka; www.nofirezone.org