By Brian Senewiratne –
Continued from last Sunday
The Detention cells – Joseph Camp
I have already referred to Joseph Camp.
“In 2016/17, seven Tamils interviewed by ITJP were brutally tortured in the main army garrison in Vavuniya (Joseph Camp. The ITJP studied in detail a variety of detention sites inside Joseph Camp in its March 2017 report based on 46 victims’ testimony and corroborated by 93 other accounts.
The ITJPs testimony reveals that the Terrorism Investigation Division of the police (TID is still taking suspects to Joseph Camp for torture during 2016 and the early part of 2017, though they are not the only unit to use this site for this purpose”.
The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission
The national Human Rights Commission reported in 2016 that it “received complaints of persons being held at detention centres that are not gazetted”, which it said “promoted an environment conducive to torture”. Upon inquiry it was revealed the places at which persons were held for at least twelve hours were officers of the TID but not gazetted detention centres. The TID has only three places of detention – Boosa, TID Vavuniya and TID Colombo.
The Victims’ Statements
There now follows a section where the statements made by the victims are recorded. I reproduce some of them here. I have made no attempt to modify the statements made to something less offensive. As an example, if a victim stated he was called a “mother-fucker” I have not said “mother f……er”. If people find this too offensive, there is no compulsion to continue reading.
I have made this mistake once, and will not do it again. It was in writing my book, “Sri Lanka: Sexually Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”. I had a photograph of a 5-year old girl raped by the Armed Forces. Several people asked me to remove this photograph because it was too offensive. Foolishly I did and have regretted it ever since. If it is acceptable for the Armed Forces to rape a 5-year old girl, then, by the same token, it is acceptable for us to publish the photograph so that the world can see what has gone on (and is still going on) in Sri Lanka.
The ITJP report is based on information from 24 cases. All but three were males. When such victims say that they were ‘raped’, they were males who were raped orally or rectally.
The statements made by the victims
The victims describe “Holding cells” (where they spend most of the time) and “Interrogation rooms” (where they are questioned and often tortured).
Almost all of the ‘holding cells’ are very small with no windows. Some of them describe the walls made of ‘cement’ (concrete) and some describe the door made of steel. These are very important since they are not structures that can be easily dismantled. If/when it is possible to get some international human rights organisation such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, more likely someone like Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, to visit Sri Lanka, a suggestion must be made that they visit Joseph Camp. It will be difficult for the Armed Forces and Police to dismantle these solidly built structures.
Victim 1 gave the dimensions of his cell – “about 2 meters by 3 meters”. Others were held in much smaller cells. He said that all three walls were ‘cement’ (concrete). He was walked blindfolded and barefoot for several minutes, indicating that he was held in a large site (which Joseph Camp is).
That too will be a problem in the future when an international investigator visits Joseph Camp. Having entered the Camp, where does he go to find the ‘holding cell’? The only way that this could be done is if one of the victims accompanies the investigator – something that is unlikely to happen. Moreover, since he was blindfolded, even he might not know his way around the Camp.
Victim 2 also described a very small room. “It was a very small room. I could touch both walls, there were no windows and it was very dark. When I lay down I could not stretch out; I had to bend my body. It smelt very bad – like a toilet. There was a squat toilet in the room. The door was made of solid metal sheet. I never knew whether it was day or night. Someone would bring me drinking water twice a day in a dog-bowl shaped dish once a day …..they would push it through a flap in the door”.
Almost all victims described being held in cells that had no windows and no lights. One of them said that he could not say whether it was day or night.
Victim 3 also described being given food as if he was a dog. Of serious concern was that his family suffered reprisals after he left the country. “Left the country” means that someone bribed the captors. The question is ‘what if the victims could not raise the money to bribe the captors?”. This was asked by Bishop Desmond Tutu who wrote the Foreword to Yasmin Sooka’s publication (An Unfinished War – torture and sexual violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014).
Victim 4 like so many victims, he said that he only encounted officers in plain clothes, not in military uniform.
Victim 5 made the very important observation: “There were about 15 cells next to each other along this corridor”. It is important because if/when it is possible for an international investigator to visit Joseph Camp, it should not be too difficult to find 15 cells.
He also said that on one occasion his interrogators referred to a senior officer coming.
Victim 6 said that he was in a “small room about 1.5 by 1.8 meters)”
Victim 7 said that he was held in an underground cell – not that it mattered because the cells that were not underground had no windows or a light. His cell was even smaller. “The cell was about 2×1 meters wide. The ceiling was a few inches just above my head. I could barely lie down” .
Of serious concern is that his interrogators said they were Military Intelligence and one wore an army uniform with three stars on his shoulder.
Victim 8 “The white van abductors said they were from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). While in detention a senior military officer came into the room”.
To ‘fast forward’ this, it is some of these ‘senior military officers’ who are being sent as Sri Lankan Diplomats, by the Rajapaksa government and the current Sirisena government. This will be dealt with later.
Victim 11 said “The room was very small – a little bigger than a toilet”. When I read this I went to the toilet in my house (which is not that small) and tried to sleep in it. I suggest that you do the same.
Victim 14 said that he was led into a room where “There was a wooden bench, wires, wooden cricket wickets, and long plastic pipes filled with sand”. I can assure readers that the Armed Forces did not use the cricket wickets for what they were made for, because “There were bloodstains on one of the walls”.
Victim 15 was held in a room without a toilet. He said that “The room had a bad smell of dog faeces”. I’d suggest that it is more likely that it was human faeces, since there was no toilet.
All of the above victims were in the Joseph Camp in Vavuniya.
We now move on to other torture camps in the Jaffna Peninsula and at unknown sites. It really makes no difference because the ‘holding cell’ and the ‘interrogation (torture) areas’ are the same.
Victim 19 “The woman untied my hands and took me to the toilet, which was next to the room I had been held in. There were things in the room- thick batons, long plastic pipes, and electrical cords against a wall. This room made me feel that it was like a torture room. The walls had blood on them, a bloody hand print on the wall as though someone had been scraping the wall with their fingers”.
I might add that the batons are not necessarily for beating. They have been used by the Armed Forces and the Police for raping women. So also the ‘long plastic pipes”. They have been used for anal rape and more. A patient referred to me in Brisbane, Australia, an asylum seeker from the Sri Lanka North said that when he had a bowel action it was very painful. He said that a plastic pipe had been inserted into his rectum, and barbed wire passed down the pipe and the pipe withdrawn. The barbed wire was then pulled and pushed. I am a Gastroenterologist and had the necessary instruments to visualise his rectum. There were linear tears compatible with his claim.
Victim 20 “I saw belts, batons, metal wires on the floor. In the middle of the room was a thick rope hanging from a hook in the ceiling. Then I knew something bad was going to happen to me”.
I will temporarily stop the Victim statements here to make a comment.
From time to time I will remind the reader of two things. 1) What is being described in this publication is not what happened in the Rajapaksa regime, but what is happening under the current Sri Lankan government of President Sirisena. 2) This is going on right now, especially in Vavuniya in Joseph Camp, the torture centre run by the Armed Forces.
I will move to the next Chapter (4) titled “Torture”.
The first paragraph is worth quoting in full.
“The methods of physical torture documented in 2015 and 2016/17 are similar to previous years, namely falaka (beating the soles of the feet), beating (normally with pipes and batons),whipping (often with cables and wires), kicking, punching, burning with cigarettes, branding with hot metal rods, asphyxiation in polythene bags soaked in petrol or chilli powder, submerging heads in tubs of water, suspension, manacling and tying to chairs, and in some instances electrocution. In addition, rape and other forms of sexual violence and humiliation continue under the Sirisena regime. The methods of torture remain consistent and the severity of the torture is not diminishing in the cases the ITJP has studied for this report”.
Where can you see the results. There are some in Google in the ‘images’ section (top right had corner). If you cannot find them, email me (email@example.com) and I will send them to you.
Amusing – it is fun
One victim describes what he called a “new form of beating. The Sri Lankan Army officer would say “Kottiya” which means Tiger and LTTE, and others would laugh. While they threw and poured the chilli powder on me, all four men were joking and laughing in Sinhala to each other”.
To be continued …