By Jeya Lorenz
On the 10th of November, British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted
This tweet is clear evidence of the traction the provocative documentary has had since it was first screened at the UN’s 22nd meeting of the Human Rights Council back in March of this year. No Fire Zone compiles citizen video documenting the mass violence of the civil war in Sri Lanka between 2008 and 2009.
The idea for the film began in 2011, after the No Fire Zone team and Channel 4 in the UK aired a two-part TV series called, The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka. After these aired, new evidence was brought to light and the documentary team recognized the need to create a more formal vehicle which included the new evidence. Thus, Callam Macrae and his team created the documentary, No Fire Zone, which is a summation of the two part series combined with the new evidence and created to take to an international audience.
The filmmakers, notably the director, Callam Macrae, had a few key goals in mind when creating this film. The primary one was to expose the war crimes of the Sri Lankan government against its people in order to start an independent international investigation. While violent acts mounted on both sides of the civil war, the film’s focus is on war crimes committed by President Rajapaksa’s government. The focus lies with the crimes committed during the during the 138 day covert massacre at the end of the war where the systemic killing of the Tamil people was carried out between 2008 and 2009.
A short-term goal was to initiate a boycott against this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM). The CHOGM, held every two years to gather leaders of Commonwealth countries, took place from November 15-17 in Sri Lanka, hosted by President Rajapaksa. India, Canada, and Mauritius have joined the boycott and have even shunned others who are attending such as Australia.
Opposition from the Sri Lankan government towards the film has been immense. Initially the Sri Lankan government struck out against the film claiming the footage was not real or had been faked. The No Fire Zone team explained to the Human Rights Channel that they have worked extensively with digital specialists to authenticate and verify that execution footage originally captured as trophy videos, had not been edited or manipulated. Additionally, whenever possible, they confirmed that the date recorded in the camera or phone used to shoot the footage matched the date events occurred. A forensic pathologist examined videos of wounds and blood splatter, and the UN authenticated the execution images. Opposition from the Sri Lankan government has also stretched outside of Sri Lanka through trying to enforce censorship of the film. A group of people attempting to hold screenings of the movie in Kuala Lumpur were reportedly detained.
Last week, before the CHOGM meeting was due to begin on the 15th November, Callam Macrae and Channel 4 travelled to Sri Lanka and faced huge opposition from the Sri Lankan authorities. Police placed Macrae under police supervision on the 14th November, the day before the meeting commenced, and authorities and pro-government protestors blockaded the train traveling to Colombo carrying the Channel 4 team.
The world summit that was supposed to benefit Sri Lanka has turned attention to its record of human rights abuse. Thanks to No Fire Zone and many other advocacy efforts, the perpetrators of that abuse, still in power since the Sri Lankan civil war, may begin to feel repercussions for their crimes.
Jeya Lorenz is an intern working for the Human Rights Channel at WITNESS with a BA in International Relations from the University of Sussex and an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS in the UK.