By Maya Borom
Not since John Pilger’s 1979 Year Zero documentary on the Khmer Rouge slaughter of civilians in Cambodia has there been a documentary as important in bearing witness and raising awareness of the grave contraventions of international law and human rights as Callum Macrae’s No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.
Macrae’s documentary pieces together a clear picture of the tragic events in 2008 that lead to the final government offensive against Tamil stronghold regions of Kilinochchi and Vanni in Northern Sri Lanka, where thousands of people were killed. Utilising raw mobile footage obtained from the waring Sri Lankan Government and Tamil Tiger forces, as well as footage taken by UN workers and civilians caught in the middle of protection zones, the film provides a no-holds barred view into the systematic eradication of a minority group within Sri Lanka by the majority government.
“Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected”
The title of the documentary refers to these no fire zones of protection set up by the Sri Lankan Government, and whose coordinates were given to the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross as a designated shelling free / refugee area. In theory, those within the zones borders would be safe and protected from any fighting and collateral damage that may occur as the fighting raged around them. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected and shielding their loved ones from the savages of warfare.
The explicit footage in No Fire Zone bears witness to the complete destruction of entire families and communities. No one is spared, not even society’s most vulnerable: children, the elderly and the infirm. Interspersed with interviews with UN officials who were in the field at the time, as well as government propaganda as to what was occurring, the documentary also illustrates the inadequacy of the international community’s response to the massacres, led in part by the unwillingness of the United Nations to intervene. It’s important to note that key government officials were, and continue to function, in office within the United Nations, or in diplomatic posts – a parallel that can once again be drawn with Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.
No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka is an unforgettable journey of torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and genocide. It documents war crimes. There is no doubt that the images and scenes played out in the film are haunting, disturbing, distressing and unforgettable and linger long after the final credits.
This is a documentary that leaves an indelible impression and adds to the call to bring those responsible to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.