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Forensic Experts Say Tamil Killings Video is Authentic

  • Lisa Schlein

Forensic experts say video footage that documents the extrajudicial executions of Tamil civilians, allegedly by members of the Sri Lankan Army, is authentic.

What the video shows

This five-minute soul-searing video graphically shows Sri Lankan soldiers shooting people at close range. Fourteen corpses of naked men and women are lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. In one scene, a group of laughing soldiers is standing around a dead, naked woman.

The video, which was broadcast by a British Television Channel last year, was filmed on cell phones during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war that ended in 2009. Thousands of people allegedly were killed during this final battle between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Authorities claim it's fake

Sri Lankan authorities reject the video as a fake and accuse the United Nations of bias and meddling in its state affairs.

To lay these charges to rest, U.N. Special Investigator on Extrajudicial Killings Christof Heynes hired four independent forensic experts to examine the authenticity of the video.

He says the experts looked to see if there was any tampering of the video and whether the people who were filmed were actors.

“The claim that I make is that the video is authentic," said Heynes. "The claim that I make is that these are real people being killed. I do not make, as I have said, the claim that particular individuals are guilty of a crime. I am not in a position to do that and where things are at the moment is then to make the claim there is a prime facie case, a case that should be taken seriously and it should go to the next level of investigation-both on the domestic and on the international level then.”

Analysis process

Forensic video analyst Jeff Spivack says there are limitations to any analysis. But he says there is a long list of things analysts look at to determine when a film is real or fake.

These include evidence of image manipulation, image creation, staging, discontinuity, and indoor evidence of undisclosed image processing.

“While absolute confirmation of authenticity is not possible, all available evidence suggests to a high probability of authenticity from a technical perspective,” Spivack said.

U.N. Special Investigator Heynes presented his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council and says he has provided the Sri Lankan government with the video.

He urges the government to undertake its own independent investigation. Heynes also is calling for an international investigation into serious crimes that may have been committed.