Frances Harrison

Frances  was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, as well as the School of Oriental & African Studies, and Imperial College in London. For many years she worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC posted in South Asia, South East Asia and Iran. From 2000-4 she was the resident BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka. She has worked at Amnesty International as Head of News and while writing this book was a visiting research fellow at Oxford University.

TWITTER @FrancesHarris0n
Publisher: Portobello Books

See also the Sewing Machine Project , an NGO in the US triggered by a report by Frances during the tsunami in Sri Lanka.


Some of Frances Harrison’s BBC Reports From Sri Lanka:

BBC: Up close with the Tamil Tigers29 Jan 2002, “The firing over, the women Tigers reverted to giggly girls, posing for photographs and waving good-bye.It’s easy to forget these women have just been trained to kill…”

Author and Col. Soosai, Sea Tiger Commander

BBC Spartan Life Under the Tigers, 30 Jan 2002, “Rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka is like a tropical version of Afghanistan. A generation has grown up without ever seeing a computer, a telephone or even a train…”

BBC. Sri Lanka’s orphans bear scars of war31 Jan 2002, “Sri Lanka’s two-decade long civil war has left thousands of children on all sides orphaned – facing a bleak future…”

Author and Col Karuna

BBC: Killed journalist: Sri Lanka ‘injustice’, 18 Oct 2002, “Nimalarajan Mylvaganam was murdered in cold blood as he was writing for the BBC at home one evening.His father was repeatedly knifed and his mother and young nephew badly injured by a hand grenade explosion in their sitting room…”

BBC: ‘Black Tigers’ Appear in Public, 26 Nov 2002, “Dressed in black uniforms with their heads masked to disguise their identities, 27 suicide bombers marched in parade along with other fighters…”

BBC: Analysis: Sri Lanka’s federal surprise5 Dec 2002, “It used to be known as the “F word” of Sri Lankan politics – but these days news that the Tamil Tigers are willing to settle for a federal system is being welcomed by peace activists…”

BBC: Sri Lanka’s deadly peace harvest7 Jan 2003, “Lying in Mallavi hospital in Sri Lanka and with only one leg, Selliah Marimuththu, is one of the latest victims of peace on the island.A 46 year-old farmer and father of six children, Selliah said: “I knew there had been heavy fighting in that area but they had cut the barbed wire there so I thought it was safe and I didn’t realise it was mined.”

BBC, Sri Lanka’s child soldiers, 31 Jan 2003, “Some of the surrendered Tiger male fighters are obviously underage because their voices have not broken yet.”They trained me to move forward while the battle was on and to take a gun apart and put it back together again” explained 13-year-old Haran – not his real name – in a squeaky voice…”

BBC,Twenty years on – riots that led to war, 23 July 2003, “”I saw a lot of things on the way which made me aware that this was not actually a spontaneous attack on Tamils by Sinhalese mobs but much more organised,” says Manoranjan Rajasingham…”

BBC: UK family’s Jaffna homecoming14 Aug 2003, “The Balarajah family from the London suburb of Ruislip had an unusual summer holiday this year – three days in a former war zone in northern Sri Lanka…”

BBC, Sri Lanka still hungry for peace, 15 Oct 2003, “At one of 24 “well baby” clinics in the jungle run by Dr Gunaratnam, the result of chronic hunger and poverty is laboriously measured on growth charts. There is a grey shaded area for malnutrition, but many of the babies are off the chart…”

BBC: Tamil techies master Blaster worm, 17 Oct 2003, “The pioneers of a new technology centre must have thought the jungles of rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka would be the last place to expect the powerful Blaster Worm computer virus…”

BBC: Work is torture for Sri Lanka maids, 24 Nov 2003, “What makes Kusuma cry is not the memory of repeated assaults but the look on her children’s faces when they saw her in hospital…”BBC: Unsung hero of Sri Lanka turmoil, 2 Nov 2003, “Dr Gunaratnam is one of the unsung heroes of his country’s civil service – a man truly dedicated to serving his people…”

In Sri Lanka


BBC, Four years, Many deaths: Good Bye Sri Lanka, July 2004, “As I prepare to say goodbye to Sri Lanka I think of how Nimalarajan’s family left this country. No big send off, no farewell gatherings, no interviews – they went quietly – their departure unnoticed by anyone…”

BBC: Tamil fishing industry swept away, 3 Jan 2005, “More than a million fishermen in Sri Lanka’s north-east may have lost their livelihoods in the Asian tsunami, experts say.About 80% of fishing boats there are believed destroyed and many fishermen are also too scared to go to sea…”

BBC: Tamil women face up to survival, Vadamarachchi East, 6 Jan 2005, “Sixty-eight-year-old Rasamani sits on what’s left of her home and cries.You can’t call it a house – only the floor is left. “I keep thinking why did I survive,” she sobs. “There’s no point in the elderly living – it’s our children who should have survived”.When the giant wave came she was swept to the top of a tall palm tree.

BBC: Show of strength by the rebels’ rebel, 11 March 2004: “I travelled 15 hours in a van to territory held by the Tamil Tigers in eastern Sri Lanka only to have Wordsworth quoted at me by the rebels…”.





Why have you written only about 2009 and not the rest of the war?

Because there has already been a lot written about the earlier phases of the war but this period was recent and these are stories that haven’t been told before.

Why haven’t you written the soldiers’ stories?

I think that’s an excellent subject for another book by someone with access to ordinary foot soldiers in Sri Lanka who can tell the story of how terrifying it must have been to go and fight the Tigers in unfamiliar trenches in the northern jungles. The first hand experiences of the low ranking fighters – rather than their Generals and political leaders – could be fascinating and provide an important perspective on the war.

Aren’t you just taking these events out of context? 

I wasn’t even alive when this started. I deliberately chose to write a segment of the story – namely what happened in 2008/9. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the survivors of attacks and abuses by the Tigers in earlier phases of the war, but those events, painful as they are, cannot justify what was done in 2009 in Mullivaikkal. I am writing the oral histories of the defeated in the hope of understanding another perspective.

Aren’t you undermining reconciliation by stirring up the past? 

Reconciliation – or ultimately forgiveness – needs to be based on truth. The suffering of those who survived Mullivaikkal is unprecedented even in a war as brutal as Sri Lanka’s. If that suffering goes unacknowledged – or denied – then it will fester. Survivors of 2009 don’t want to fight. They are crushed, destroyed, suicidal. But eventually another generation will emerge, brought up on the stories of what happened on that beach, and they will seek revenge. Remember what drove Prabhakaran to take up arms – stories of race riots he heard as a child. I would like to see Sri Lankans live in their beautiful island in peace but I don’t think that’s possible in the long term if these stories are not acknowledged as the reality for the survivors.

Is only the government of Sri Lanka to blame?

No. In 2009 the Tamil Tigers forcibly recruited under age fighters, denied civilians freedom of movement, dismissed a surrender plan, took UN staff hostage and exploded suicide bombers. Read the UN Panel of Experts report for a full legal analysis of the war crimes by both parties.

Many Tamils also feel very badly let down by the United Nations system and the international community which they believed would come and rescue them in their hour of need.