By Brian Senewiratne –
Continued from last Saturday
Chapter 11 – Aftermath
“Family members in Sri Lanka remain under surveillance and intelligence services ask them where the victim has gone. This seems to be more about keeping the family silent and tracking the victim abroad, rather than investigating an escape which the security services themselves facilitated”
“The levels of trauma amongst recent torture victims from Sri Lanka, many of whom have attempted suicide, are alarming. Most of those we interviewed describe having contemplated suicide at some point. Typically the trigger is reprisals against relatives or being rejected for asylum……many victims describe themselves as suicidal and/or self harming. They must cope with the physical pain after torture as well as mental trauma and, on top of this, often find themselves in a foreign country.
Two of the 2016/17 torture cases tried to kill themselves almost immediately on arrival in the UK, one had to be hospitalised from the airport. It is worth noting that this is hardly the action of economic migrants desperate to reach Europe to secure a better life.
Immigration detention centres
“Being placed in immigration detention on arrival in the UK also exacerbated the suicidal feelings.”
I might add that asylum seekers arriving in Australia can remain in detention centres for years. I have described these detention centres, some in mainland Australia and some off shore in Christmas Island, Papua New Guinea (Manus Island), and in Nauru as ‘manufacturing centres for mental disease’. It is a gross violation of the UN Refugee Convention, signed and ratified by Australia (and the UK).
“The asylum application process is slow, leaving the victim in limbo, unable to work, unable to access support services effectively or reunite with loved ones”.
Australia’s asylum-seeker policy is an international disgrace, probably the worst in the world. There is an excellent book by Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong: “Refugees. Why seeking asylum is legal and Australia’s policies are not”. I strongly recommend this book.
The next two Chapters are very important. I will quote from them extensively.
Chapter 12 – Conclusion
“The UN Investigation into Sri Lanka described the modus operandi of “white van” abductions and established that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture by the security forces. Nothing has been done by the new Government to break this culture of impunity, even when a torture site has been identified by the ITJP and corroborated by visiting International teams.
After two and a half years in office, the Government’s failure to investigate past allegations makes it complicit in the continuation of the violations.
There has also been no attempt to vet public officials despite the commitment in UN HRC Resolution 30/1 to do this. Instead, the Government has rewarded alleged torturers and officials allegedly implicated in war crimes. As the ITJP reports show, alleged perpetrators have been sent abroad as diplomats and members of delegations to UN committees.
The ITJP evidence base s built on hundreds of detailed witness statements, through which the ITJP has now identified several alleged perpetrators (direct and in positions of command responsibility) and torture sites, but there are regrettably no witness protection mechanism for witnesses and victims inside or outside to testify, be it to a truth commission or court. The evidence base has been amplified by insider witnesses who confirm the modus operandi and methodology as well as identity of many of the torturers.
The Government has excused its failure to investigate saying it is waiting for a special court to be set up. However, it is now clear that the Prime Minister and President have no intention of establishing a hybrid court as the (former) Foreign Minister promised in Geneva in 2015. The President reassured the security forces in person and in public that not one of them will be charged with human rights violations, which reinforces the culture of impunity. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has made it clear that another domestic mechanism will not have the trust of victims after so many have failed to deliver justice. Furthermore, the limitations in the current criminal justice system render it incapable of delivering justice for serious crimes.
Chapter 13 – Recommendations.
Immediately establish an independent credible body staffed by international investigators, using best comparative experience including CICIG (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala- International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) in Guatemala, to assist the Hybrid Court and the Sri Lankan Governments in investigations of past and current human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes. The body should in the course if their investigations identify alleged perpetrators and share such names with the vetting and screening authority to be established.
Vetting and Screening Authority
Establish an independent credible civilian body to carry out vetting and screening of public employees and security officials identified as alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes in order to promote justice and accountability, and set out in HRC Resolution 30/1 in October 2015.
Strengthen the witness protection legislation, as agreed to in Resolution 30/1 to align with international standards and immediately suspend members of the witness protection National Authority against whom there are allegations of wrongdoing or interference pending an inquiry, and replace them with independent figures who have been properly vetted and screened for their involvement in human rights violations and abuses as well as serious international crimes, and who have demonstrated their commitment to human rights.
Prevention of Terrorism
The current policy framework for the Prevention of Terrorism published by the Government of Sri Lanka does not conform with human rights standards and norms and perpetuates the discriminatory and abusive application of counter-terrorism laws that have been used in the past to target mainly the Tamil population. If Sri Lanka is to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with a human rights compliant framework (as committed to by President Sirisena) for countering terrorism, Parliament must ensure that substantial revisions are made to the “Policy and Legal Framework Relating to the Proposed Counter Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka” during the drafting process and to ensure that the process is open and participatory, taking account of civil society voices and input.
Testifying from abroad
Amend the rules for witnesses who would like to testify from abroad, either through video or other means such as letters rogatory, in order to ensure that key witnesses abroad do not have to enter a Sri Lankan embassy to give evidence and can instead testify to courts and commissions through the aforesaid mechanisms, that do not expose them and their families in Sri Lanka to reprisals
Government of Sri Lanka
1 Open Joseph Camp to regular Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and ICRC spot inspection.
2. Government to share TID detention records for 2016 in the Edward Julian Case with the HRCSL which should account for the whereabouts and current status of all detained, ascertaining if suspects have been tortured with their remit including victims now abroad.
3. Military and police to provide a list of locations to HRCSL of all biometric fingerprinting machines used by security forces.
4. Investigate the EPDP’s role in extortion of money from families of detainees.
5. Investigate corruption at Colombo Airport immigration by installing live surveillance cameras.
United Nations Bodies
1 UNCAT (UN Convention against Torture) to initiate an Article 20 investigation into Joseph Camp; Government to grant access. Victims abroad also to be interviewed.
2.WGEID (Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances) to interview all recent victims of abduction and enforces disappearance in Sri Lanka who survived.
3. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, to review all case files from ITJP (where witnesses have given written consent) on the Sirisena-era and issue a statement or report.
4. OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) to examine witnesses (where witnesses provide written consent) from the ITJP and report to the UNHRC in March 2018.
5. Donors to rethink the SSR (Security Sector Reform) process in Sri Lanka, ensuring a torture prevention, mental health component and anti police force corruption element is included.
There now follows a section titled:
Torture Methods Glossary: Based on 2017/17 testimony
This is a nauseating section to read but is essential since it describes exactly what is inflicted on victims. These methods occurred during the Rajapaksa regime and now under President Sirisena. They are all direct quotes from victims.
Softening up the first night
“During the night they would come in and out, sometimes throwing water on my face and banging on the wooden door loudly, I think to stop me from sleeping”
“Someone several times opened the door and threw water on me. I think to prevent me from sleeping”
“Throughout the night they banged the door and splashed water on me to keep me awake”.
“I heard people banging on the door about two or three times. They were shouting but I could not make out what they were saying. No one came inside but water was thrown in at some point”.
“They were slapping me on my ears, with hard blows. After some time my right ear started to bleed”.
“They talked to themselves, laughed and would hit me on my ears. This was extremely painful as the air went into my ears”.
Beating and whipping
“I was slapped on my cheeks and also hit with batons. I was kicked when I was lying on the floor. The pain was unbearable. My body swelled up and bled a lot. As a result of these beatings I became unable to walk and had to be dragged from my small room to the big torture room”.
“They would beat me with folded electric cords on the back of my calves and thighs”.
“My hands were still tied back and then my feet were tied together. I was struck hard with wooden sticks. I was shouting that I could not bear it. I said that it was better if they killed me”.
“Someone tied a wet polythene bag which smelt of petrol over my head. I experienced a burning sensation in my eyes and nose, cheeks – it was unbearable. I tried to shake my head to get the bag off my head but I could not”.
“When the bag was back over my head, I could not breathe and I was overwhelmed by the smell of petrol; my eyes and my whole face were burning. The Sri Lankan Army officer held the bag tight at the back of my neck. I kept struggling unsuccessfully to get the bag off my face. I then fell off the table and then lost consciousness”.
“As he was moving the bag down over my head he said in broken Tamil, “we are going to torture you more. If you don’t tell the truth I will tie the bag round your neck”. I felt sick and that I was losing consciousness”.
“While I was hanging upside down, they covered my face with a plastic shopping bag and tied it around my neck. It caused me to almost suffocate and they continued to beat me and when I was out of breath and my body shaking and thrashing, they released the bag and then they tied it again. I can’t remember what happened after this. I fell unconscious”.
“The man then pulled out a pair of pliers and pulled off my nail from my right small toe, which bled. It was an excruciating pain. I thought he was going to pull all my nails and so I said “OK if you bring it (confession document) I will sign it”
“At some point a Sri Lankan Army officer tried to pull the nail of the little finger on my right hand off with pliars. I tried to pull my hand away to protect my nail. This made him angry and he hit my head many times with the pliars. It began to bleed and the top of my finger was subsequently removed after leaving the torture facility as it became infected’.
“They brought two long wooden planks. They both hit me very hard with the planks and on my arms and back for a long time. Both planks eventually broke”
“I was beaten on the bare soles of my feet with a wooden cricket wicket. It was extremely painful”.
“He stared at me and said tonight and then put two fingers to his head making a shooting sign”.
“They verbally threatened me that if you don’t tell us the truth we will keep you and kill you”.
“He said that I had better tell the truth or the interpreter would beat me and kill me”.
“When the men beat me they would do it for long periods and very hard with the batons and plastic tubes, mainly on my back of my thighs. I was very frightened that they would break my back and kill me”.
“Two of the men hit me with a strong plastic heavy pipe that is used to supply water. This beating went on for about 10 to 20 minutes. While I was being beaten they said: tell me about LTTE, admit that you are an LTTE member – always in broken Tamil. The pain was so bad that I was praying that I would die as I could not stand it anymore. Eventually I passed out”.
“They used something like an ‘S-Lon’ pipe and both started thrashing me on my back, legs and hands, striking me many times. I have never been beaten so severely. I started screaming and crying. One blow was on my head and I lost consciousness and can’t remember what happened next”.
“They beat me with an iron rod and with wooden sticks on my legs and on the soles of my feet. This felt like electricity passing through your body; it is an unbearable pain. I became disoriented and after some time I didn’t really know what was happening”.
“He asked me to lie on the bench, face down. This Sri Lankan Army officer then hit me on the soles of my feet. Before he beat me he said “Kottiya” which means Tiger and LTTE. The pain was so excruciating that I was screaming so much that after he had beaten me about three to four times I fell off the bench onto the floor”.
“They tied me face down to the table and started beating the soles of my feet with wooden poles. At this point I screamed and begged them to stop. I said to the man who asked the questions: “Anna please leave me or finish me off”.
“The interrogation officers made me lie flat face down on the table and tied my hands behind and my legs tied to the table. They did not ask any questions but just started beating me on the soles of my feet”.
Stick with wires
Here is a victim: “One carried a stick with spiked wire around it.
The flat metal stick I was beaten with was 4-5 cms wide, about a meter long and made from metal wires woven tightly together. I have never seen anything like it so I thought it must be purpose built for torture. Blood was oozing out”.
A victim: ‘One of the men then poured the contents of this tin on to my penis. It smelt of chilli powder and was red and so I it was chilli powder. I could not stand in one place as it was burning so much and so I was transferring my weight from foot to foot. The same two men then took some of the chilli powder and threw it in my eyes”.
“They put chilli powder in a polythene bag and tied it across my neck and my eyes and my whole face were burning in an absolutely unbearable pain. They were behaving like animals. They continued to beat me with the wire and pipe. The pain was unbearable. I passed out’.
(As a former Zoologist, I can assure people that animals do not behave like this).
“One of them remarked “if you can’t see or tell you don’t need eyes”. They brought some chilli powder, and pushed me down, kicked and put the chilli powder all over my body including my eyes. The pain was excruciating. It was so bad it was possibly worse than death”.
“My two arms were handcuffed together at the back, one from above and the other from below which was extremely painful”.
“The woman lifted up the blouse I was wearing, exposing my back and then pressed buning cigarettes into my back. I was screaming in pain”.
“Two of the men then took my jeans off and another took off my torn shirt. I had never recovered my bra. I was left only in my panties. One of the men then lit up a cigarette and burnt me on my right breast, on my lower back, in between my thighs and on my bottom as the other two men restrained me”.
“They burned me with cigarettes on my chest and on my back in a very slow and deliberate manner telling me to admit to their allegations. I continued denying them. I begged of them not to burn me, and I cried”.
“They kept pressing the hot iron rod on my back but it felt like my whole body was burning. I was screaming and crying for them to stop. They talking among them themselves in Sinhalese and were laughing. Finally they said jokingly in Tamil that the marks are similar to the stripes of a tiger. I was screaming and crying”.
“They started burning me with hot iron rods on the side of my body under my arm, chest and on my thigh. The burning sensation was unbearable and I admitted to all their accusations. They told me to sign a blank piece of paper, which I did”.
“Each time they burnt me I felt that i was having an electric shock in my head. These wounds blistered and later burst some liquid came out. When I came out if detention my clothes would stick to my back”.
“I was then burned on my back and my legs with a heated metal pipe. The pain was unbearable. I was screaming loudly. I begged them to kill me in one go as I did not want to experience this anymore”.
“They used a burning hot metal iron rod on my back. I could feel that my skin was burning, the pain was unbearable. They did this several times. This and all of the other torture that I suffered took me to the limits of human endurance. I do not think they asked me any questions this day”.
“They brought a round barrel of water and lowered my head into the water. They kept telling me ‘so you need a separate country’ ”.
“While I was suspended in mid-air, one of the other men came and held my body and moved it down head first into the bucket of water. I was screaming that I was going to tell the truth. I felt I was close to death. I was taken down and the four Sri Lanka Army officers were talking amongst themselves and laughing”.
“One of them had his hand on the back of my head and pushed my head into the water. I was struggling to breathe. I can’t remember much of this, but I think that they did it three times at least, and said each time ‘admit it’.
“He suddenly put my face into the water barrel and held it under the water. I could not breathe and felt like I was dead and he would lift my head out”.
“They tied a rope around one of my legs and my hands tied in front. There was a sort of hook in the ceiling and I saw one of the men throw the rope through the hook and pull it. It caused me to be dragged along the floor and up until I was hanging upside down”.
“One of the soldiers then threw the long rope that was tied to my legs over a bar in the ceiling so that it was hanging down the other side and he was holding the other. He said that if I did not tell the truth I would die now”.
Chained to Railings
“Behind the seated men were two metal chains hanging down from two metal girder that was somehow attached to the ceiling. Each of my arms was fastened with handcuffs to the ceiling. My feet remained on the ground. One man in a green T-shirt said in broken Tamil ‘tell me about yourself’”.
“Every time I would be tied up to the railings on the ceiling. Sometimes my hands were crossed and otherwise I was tied with my arms separated. When I was suspended like this I was beaten all over the body really hard with batons, heavy pipes and wires. They would also twist my wrists”.
“One of the men handcuffed me to the metal bar on the ceiling. I could just about touch the floor with my toes but could not fully put my feet down”.
“One of the men said that I was lying. Another took an electric piece of machinery and put it on my back. I could see the cord plugged into the socket but I did not see the machinery itself. On impact I had an electric shock throughout my entire body, which became immobilised. I felt my nerves and bones come out of my body and back in. It made me disoriented and completely helpless. Death would have been better than the amount of pain I was in”.
Denial of toilet facilities
I never asked to go to the toilet because every time I asked for anything I was beaten. I mainly passed urine involuntarily during the beatings. Also once during the beating I passed stool”.
I will end here. There is a lot more in the Report but I have given you what you should know.
A question and a request
I have a question: “Why are these people being tortured? We should contact the Armed Forces in Joseph Camp and find out. Will we get a response? No, we will not, not from the Armed Forces nor the Sri Lankan Government. I know, because I have tried. I still think that you should try.
You should visit Sri Lanka and make sure you go to The Vanni Security Force Headquarters in Vavuniya , and see Joseph Camp. It is not one of the ‘tourist attractions’ but is well worth seeing. In Colombo, see the 4th Floor of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). If you are lucky, you will see what goes on there. You can certainly see what has gone on there – just look at the walls.
Keep abreast of what is going on in Sri Lanka by googling “ITJP”. It will tell you much more than you are likely to find anywhere else.
A final comment by me
Have I a final comment? Yes I have. All of this is happening, not under the brutal Rajapaksa regime (we have passed all that), but under President Maithripala Sirisena. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He is the President with extensive powers. He is accountable. The buck stops with him.
What do we do with the ITJP under its outstanding Director, Yasmin Sooka? Recommend them for a Nobel Prize for Peace as was Amnesty International? I will be doing so. It is the least we can do.