Champion’s Photographic Lens on Sri Lanka’s Travails, 1988-2008

Saroj Pathirana, in, where the title reads “History ‘repeats’ through lens” … an EVENT in July 2008 in London  =

While traveling around Sri Lanka for over 22 years I always expected someday the situation would change for the better”, says the veteran British photographer Stephen Champion. However, after nearly two decades since he first set his foot on the island the country is still battling, he says. “We are still looking at the very similar scenario. History seems to be repeating itself,” Mr. Champion told BBC Sandeshaya at the launch of his latest book on Sri Lanka.

The launch, at Amnesty International in London on Monday evening, is aimed at raising awareness on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation. Stephen Champion who has visited Sri Lanka’s south and north through turbulent years since the second uprising of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) called on the parties to the conflict to end the bloodshed.

“We are still looking at the very similar scenario. History seems to be repeating itself,” Mr. Champion told BBC Sandeshaya at the launch of his latest book on Sri Lanka.

The launch, At Amnesty International in London on Monday evening, is aimed at raising awareness on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation.

Stephen Champion who has visited Sri Lanka’s south and north through turbulent years since the second uprising of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) called on the parties to the conflict to end the bloodshed.

Murder squads

“I say this. Put that gun down. That is the reality in every conflict of the world. You don’t resolve any war situation until and unless you put the gun down,” Mr. Champion added. The Sri Lankan human rights campaigner and barrister, Prince (sic) Gunasekara, agrees.

AI created a dark tunnel through which those gathered had to pass through to emphasise the reality of war “Those murderous squads created during Premadasa presidency are yet to be dissolved in Sri Lanka. You just need to press the button to activate them,” he told

Mr. Gunasekara, who was forced to leave Sri Lanka during President Premadasa’s era due to fear for his life, was highly critical of the conduct of past and current Sri Lankan governments. He accused all Sri Lankan leaders since then, including President Rajapaksa, of failing to effectively improve the human rights situation.

Both the then government and the JVP are accused of killing at least 60,000 people, majority of them Sinhala youth, during the late 80s.

AI exhibition

It is estimated that another 70,000 people were killed in the war between the government forces and the LTTE since early 80s.

The installation that was set up parallel to the book launch by the AI in London included a dark tunnel in an attempt to emphasise the brutality of the war. The balloons laid on the floor blasted with a heavy sound as the spectators walked through the tunnel.

Lorenzo Huianu, whose idea it was to create the installation said he wanted to emphasize the experiences of civilians in war-torn areas by creating the tunnel.

“I just wanted to a show the people that when you run to jungle with your child on your back and with your belongings and a machine gun behind you – you have all these obstacles, mines and barbed wires –but all you can do is keep running,” he said.

AI ‘biased towards LTTE’

Meanwhile, AI researcher for Sri Lanka, Yolanda Foster said the AI wanted to raise awareness on Sri Lanka’s situation as many other conflicts are becoming priority for the international community. The Amnesty has been continuously condemning LTTE violations. For example we were among the first to condemn the attack in Buttala last Friday. Ms. Foster who was one of the main organizers of the event denied accusations that the rights body was usually lenient on LTTE violations.

Mr. Champion said he is still optimistic about Sri Lanka’s future potential despite continuous gross human rights violations. “The world is all about change. Well educated people in Sri Lanka deserve better. They should force the government to put the guns down forcing the LTTE to follow suit,” the veteran photographer said.


A Selection of READER COMMENTS :

I think the Premadasa government should not take the blame upon themselves for what the policemen did….   Christina Jayatunga, Gampaha

I think an honest attempt to resolve the problem has not been made throughout the history. Even now Mahinda Rajapaksha government taking the entire country for a ride by preaching the same thing Goerge Bush preaches the terrorism. Imfact the terrorism is by product of state terrorism……… Suren Hewage, Colombo

What right does Mr. Champion has to comment on the affairs of another country. Does he think that Sri Lanka is still a British colony? British ruled Ceylon successfully employing their divide and rule doctrine and poor Sri Lankans still pay the price for the tricks played by forefathers of Mr. Champion. Where was he during the time which IRA was active in the UK carrying out terrorist activities? Just wondering how many books he published asking the British government to stop protecting its citizens from the terrorist activities of the IRA…..
Anu Ganesh, Sydney, Australia

The fact is that successive Sri Lankan governments failed to propose an acceptable political solution demanded long before the birth of LTTE. As long as Sri Lanka continues to reject legitimate grievances of Tamils, using terrorism, the war will continue…….. Ganes Selva, Toronto

I think Stephen’s book carries images of GOSL,(Past and Present) LTTE, TMVP, PLOTE, JVP, PRA,EPDP, Black Cats and other violations. It is a well balanced account of the past twenty-two years’ human rights violations in Sri Lanka. we must see his balanced account of our brutal with out our own hypocrisy…….Alankara Sri Senanayaka, London, UK

Mr Champion, I agree a bit, but disagree with the most. First thing First. As a British Citizen, why not you propose your Government to put down the Gun against Iraq and Afghanistan before you asking Sri Lankans to do so? Secondly, this country has been a better place compared to the day that your Great/Grand Fathers left this country in trouble…… …… Dhammika Siripala, Edinburgh, UK

I strongly agreed to author view. None of the Sinhala goverments have the capacity to sort out the ethnic problem. We learnt this from the past. They don not give any way for Tamils other than to take the gun up………………...Velavan Thiru, UK…………………………

Yes, I do agree. People in Sri Lanka deserve better. For that, we need to defeat LTTE, and I think the Sri Lankan Government is doing a very good job. This is the most disturbing news for the LTTE’s trumpets and sympathizers like AI and Mr. Champion. Hats-off for Mr. President Rajapakse and the Sri Lankan Government for the action you’ve taken towards eradication of LTTE terrorism……..… Ruwan Tissera, Slough, UK

AI has been doing these events, even I was present in AI’s 40 Anniversary held in Central London Caterd for High society. But Nothing changed in the policies of the Host Governments. They kept deporting the innocent refugees and failed to prosecute Karuna for Crime against Humanity! It’s all hypocracy……………….. Sami Ratnam, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Ask the brutal terrorist group to lay down arms first. Write similar books on violation of human rights in Iraque Afganistan and Middle East……………………….. Kithsiri Pathirana, Galle, Sri Lanka

Sinhala leaders violated the trust that Tamils placed on them before independence and started oppressing Tamils from the word go. Two, the Sinhala leaders are incapable of leading the Sinhalese either as two JVP uprisings showed. Today the state has descended to terrorizing the Tamils and the journalists hoping them to submit to their dictatorial rule……………… Thiru, Sydney, Australia

I agree with your first openion that the people can force the Democratically elected Government to lay down the guns. But my question is how can the people force the LTTE to follow. Especially under the circumstances where the LTTEs guns are pointed towards the unarmed civilians and when LTTE is brutaly assacinating all the educated tamil leaders who raise a voice agaist them. Statements like this is only going to benefit the ruthless terririst organisations like LTTE. Will the Amnasty International or Mr.Champion suggest the same thing to the US and British forces fighting terrorists in Afganistan or Iraq, ‘first you lay down the arms and the terrorist will follow’……………….. Haritha Samaranayake, Kuopio, Finland

Why sri lankan government only put down wepons if government do that ltte will kill sinhalease. do you happy ur mother land devide to 4 or five piesces.what your army doing in afganistan and iraq. dont forget brits coloniszed us and made this all conflicts. you ar artist please dont do your art to heart others………………Harinda Jayawardene, Singapore



Prasanna Ratnayake: “We do not know what no one can deny: Stephen Champion’s Lanka War Stories,” 25 November 2008,


Filed under accountability, Afghanistan, atrocities, British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, chauvinism, communal relations, devolution, discrimination, disparagement, ethnicity, historical interpretation, human rights, insurrections, landscape wondrous, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, martyrdom, military strategy, nationalism, photography, politIcal discourse, power politics, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil migration, Tamil Tiger fighters, trauma, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, war reportage, world events & processes, zealotry

5 responses to “Champion’s Photographic Lens on Sri Lanka’s Travails, 1988-2008

  1. Patrick Rodrigo

    I lived through all the insurgencies and the war, the fist JVP uprising was caused by Felix Dias starving the population of Srilanka, if you were around
    at these times you would have noticed the children born did not grow much in physical stature, the people were starving,the uprising began, this is the first time the young cops of this time started using automatic wepons.Killings and torture was used by both sides. The Sinhalese tamil problem was politisized into a war, our famous actor Vijay Kumaratunge went to jaffna and was negotiating with the tamil people, but his popularity was his downfall or his death, shot near his home in Polhengoda by hitmen. Another problem was the fear of the Sinhalese to go even to Anuradapura, this caused unnecessary hate among the Sinhalese towards the Tamil people, it was quite safe to travel during this time,I even travelled to Jaffna without fear, there was no hate shown by the tamils towards the Sinhalese it was politics showing its ugly head and creating havoc.

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