Sri Lanka video - hard evidence?

22 June 2011 by Geraldine Coughlan

Sri Lanka denies targeting civilians while crushing Tamil Tiger rebels but said action would be taken if war crimes allegations contained in a new British documentary were true. The Channel 4 documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, contained footage of what it said were prisoner executions.

The programme also provided evidence to suggest that the Tamil Tiger fighters had also committed war crimes. Two UN investigators have confirmed the video as authentic, but the Sri Lankan authorities maintain it is fake. Victor Koppe, the lawyer for Tamil Tiger activists in Europe, told IJT how he would use such video evidence in court. 

How can such a video be authenticated?

As I understood it, it’s footage from mobile phones of soldiers who are willing to testify that footage is actually coming from their phones - that would be one way to authenticate it. However usually in criminal cases this material is used as evidence in a supporting way rather than as the main evidence on which the prosecution relies.

So before a war crimes tribunal then obviously witnesses would be the main source of evidence and this footage that we can now see on TV would be possibly playing a supporting role.

How would such a role apply to rules of evidence?

You can see it all the time in tribunals, that video footage is used as evidence in a supportive manner. Of course the main evidence will always be the testimony of witnesses - be it witnesses of specific crimes or be it insider witnesses. Any other sources are documents - for example, in this case from the military, etc. So it doesn’t necessarily have to play the most important role within a prosecution case.

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