By Brian Senewiratne –
President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe claim that since they took over Government from the Rajapaksas in 2015, the situation in Sri Lanka has changed for the better.
A Report by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) released on 14 July 2017, “Unstopped 2016/17 Torture in Sri Lanka” has a different view.
I have not written this Report. I have only condensed a 89-page document to something that is shorter. If there is a problem with what has been written, contact ITJP, not me.
I will only set out the ground realities that have not been dealt with in the ITJP report since it is of crucial importance.
A Military/Police area
The Tamil North and East of Sri Lanka are under the military and police (99% and 95% Sinhalese). who can do what they want to anyone with no accountability. This includes torture, rape, abduction, interrogation, ‘disappearances’ or anything else. It is a military/police area. With more than 200,000 Armed Forces in the area – it is highly militarised. The ratio of civilians to ‘Security Force’ personnel is about 5 to 1 – a situation that does not exist in any other country. The Sri Lankan government has not given a valid reason as to why such a high militarisation in an area where there is no longer an armed conflict. The legal system has almost collapsed so that it is an exercise in futility for victims of human rights violations to expect justice in courts. None of this has changed with the change in Government in 2015, nor is it likely to change anytime soon, if ever.
Unstopped: 2016/17 Torture in Sri Lanka
International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP)
ITJP is administered by the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa under its director, transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP team of investigators and prosecutors
The ITJP team is made up of seven international investigators from a diverse range of countries, including former prosecutors and investigators from the Ad Hoc Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), lawyers who have worked for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Timor-Leste Commission, the United Nations, the Special Court of Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court who collectively have decades of experience in investigation of sexual violence and torture, and in many instances firsthand knowledge of investigations relating to Sri Lanka.
The Report is based on sworn testimony from 24 victims of torture who have fled abroad to Europe, mainly the UK. About 3-4 days were spent with every witness with a trusted interpreter in a safe place. The statements taken were translated and read back to the victim in Tamil before it was signed. Statements were also supported by medico-legal reports when possible, psychological reports and documents from ICRC, Migration reports, Courts, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Council, scar photographs and media reports where applicable.
I will quote a few sentences from the Foreword written by Yasmin Sooka.
“The conflict has not ended for many Tamils in Sri Lanka and is still being perpetrated through unlawful abductions, detention and torture. Witnesses describe being tortured and raped by the security forces, some as recently as 2017.
What is shocking is the high number of victims we now see who have been tortured not once but on multiple occasions – in one case as many as five times. Sadly, this is no longer out of the ordinary.
Even more disturbing is the number of torture victims whose very close family members have also been tortured on separate occasions. This has huge implications for any credible future rehabilitation and for individual recovery which requires family support. The revictimisation through the deliberate targeting of the grown-up children of former LTTE cadres, indicates a high level of paranoia and persecution that is utterly at odds with the Sri Lankan Government’s rhetoric of reconciliation. It will also deepen intergenerational trauma and foster new conflicts.
The suicide attempts were so frequent that we had to start a psychosocial trauma project in London to keep witnesses alive, restoring a sense of group identity and hope for their future. Their journey abroad is not about bettering their lives – it’s about staying alive. Even that is a struggle.
This report establishes that in 2016/17 both the military and police in Sri Lanka continue to abduct, unlawfully detain, torture and rape Tamils.
The violations remain systematic and officially sanctioned by command structures within the security forces. Victims describe senior officers coming into their torture chamber. A standard operating procedure continues, involving three security force teams – one abducting, one interrogating and another releasing for money. Once the victim has fled, their family remains under surveillance by the intelligence services in order to keep them quiet.
Corruption is rampant. All the victims are eventually released on payment of money by their families. Security officials actively solicit the ransoms when the families are slow to respond to the abduction.
Half the releases were brokered by a pro-government Tamil paramilitary group, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party [EPDP]. The brokers who secure release often also arrange the human smuggling abroad, instructing the victims to leave the country if they want to stay alive. Victims in 2016/17 describe Sri Lankan immigration officials at Colombo airport being paid off by the smugglers to allow them through without any questions”.
The torture camp – Joseph Camp
“The Vanni Security Force Headquarters in Vavuniya, known as Joseph Camp, continues to be a site for torture and rape in 2016/17, including by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the police.
The ITJP has an entire publication on the Joseph camp (on 16/3/17). Here are a few sentences from this important publication.
“This is a case study in one of Sri Lanka’s many known torture sites and is based on 46 detailed testimonies from survivors and a wealth of supporting documentation. The repost documents horrifying physical and sexual abuse by the military and interrogation rooms equipped with manacles, chains, pulleys and other instruments of torture. Several of the violations occurred when General Jagath Jayasuriya was the commander of the site. Instead of being held accountable for the serious crimes, he was promoted and rewarded by becoming the Army Commander in July 2009.
After the change of government in 2015, he was given a diplomatic posting to Brazil from where he is also accredited to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia and Surinam”.
What this shows is that nothing has changed after the Sirisena government replaced the Rajapaksas in January 2015.
As has been mentioned earlier, this report is based on 21 cases of abduction, illegal detention, torture and/or sexual violence by the Sri Lankan Security Forces in 2016, and an additional 3 cases (so far) in 2017. To this will have to be added victims in 2015 (the year Sirisena took office).
There are also another 34 additional recent victims which ITJP has not yet been able to interview. This could potentially bring the total estimate to 103 people tortured after Sirisena became the President of Sri Lanka.
Family members detained in 2016
“Three survivors interviewed by the ITJP recounted the illegal detention and torture of their close family members in 2016, and a fourth described the attempted abduction of his wife at night from her home by the security forces”.
Of the 2015 torture cases the ITJP interviewed, 16 individuals have already been granted asylum in the UK or Europe, and also, two of the 2016 cases. This means their accounts of torture under the Sirisena Government were found credible by European immigration authorities who are increasingly raising the bar for entry. It also means they were deemed still at risk if returned to Sri Lanka
Nothing has changed
One of the victims interviewed put this better than I can. Here is what he said:
“The international community is wrongly under the view that the change of government has improved things for the Tamils but in reality if there is any hint of political activity then the government responds in the same way, by torture, detention and people going missing. I want to tell people about what happened to me so that the international community can see that nothing has changed and can intervene and provide a solution for us”.
Abduction and their ‘crimes’
Nine Tamils were abducted in 2016/17 after involvement in commemorations and low level political work for local Tamil MPs. Some had been involved in distributing fliers and posters, soliciting signatures for petitions or collecting the names of the Disappeared. This trend is similar to earlier patterns observed in cases of torture that occurred in 2015.
The Edward Julian (‘Ramesh’) Case
A former LTTE cadre Edward Julain (‘Ramesh) was arrested in Kilinochchi. A number of his acquaintances traced through his cellular telephone were targeted and five were arrested in Vavuniya and Mannar. The mode and scale of these arrests have raised much concern among family members who have not been informed of the reasons for their arrests. They were simply ‘abducted’ by officers in civil dress and taken away in vehicles. The modus operandi revived fears that the “white Van” culture prevalent in the Rajapaksa regime had re-commenced under President Sirisena.
Returning from abroad
Eight of the 2016/17 victims had returned to Sri Lanka from abroad, either as students going home to see family or because they finally thought it would be safe to go back to the country after many years waiting abroad after the end of the war.
Here is a direct quote from a victim:
“I thought that it would be safe for me to go home as my family in Sri Lanka told me that it was as there was a new government”.
The report goes on: “This follows a similar pattern to 2015 cases. Once detained, victims were asked for information about Tamils in the UK….. Another victim who had returned to Sri Lanka after being refused asylum in a European country was asked all about his activities abroad.”
“Seven victims…….were told they should have gone into the Government’s “rehabilitation” programme, even though persistent allegations of torture led the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, to recommend in 2017 that the whole programme be closed down34. Although the interrogators accused these victims of having evaded “rehabilitation”, no attempt was made to enrol them in the programme; instead they ended up being brutally tortured”
White Vans continue
“All the 2016 and 2017 cases involved individuals who were abducted in vans, all of them bar three in white vans. Of the 33 cases involving torture in 2015, 20 were abducted in white vans and 8 in vans of other colours and one in another sort of vehicle”.
To be continued …
K A Sumanasekera / August 7, 2017
We understand Dr Brian’s frustrations……..He would have been a top notch Doctor, with oodles of money, living in Cinnamon Gardens if he didn’t leave his motherland…….He could have even afforded a Pad next to Visumpaya, which the Yhapalalan heavy and Dr Ranil’s best buddy and RH man, Penthouse Ravi demanded as his Official Residence……… But then Aloysious , Mela and Oneliya stuffed him. up……….. That is another story, which I don’t think Dr Brian is up to speed with……….I am not sure about the period of rule by Mr Pirahaparan, but Dr Brian hasn’t seen Srilanka , post Nanthikad l and up to Jan 2015… ……I don’t know much about these Reporters ……….They must have thought Swiss Kumar and his mates who ride Mopads are all Sinhala Boys who have migrated to Jaffna……. Perhaps TNA Siva told them so….. I think the new Yahaapalan FM must arrange a Visit for Dr Brian to spend a good three weeks at least , touring Yahapalana Srilanka…..
Jim softy / August 7, 2017
Sumanasekara: I think Brian Senevirathne has only a British medical Degree and he was not qualified to enter to Sri lankan medical faculties, if existd more than one at that time. Then he tried to become a medical faculty lecturer he ws not selected, instead a Tamil was selected. Now, he cry out loud for discrimination of Tamils.———————It looks his old age is geeting him, Hallucination, amnesia all working against him.
Simon De Silva / August 7, 2017
whoever whatever being discussed, that is part and parcel of srilanken culture.
They talk high about them to be called SINHALA BUDDHISTS but they have been in the vicious mode attacking each other:
If Namal baby, OR any other babies were murdered, they would not have stayed the way things move with YOUNG rubby player Thadjudeen. There, no matter even former president s wife s vehicle was directly involved. No matter his sons were part of the murder. People treat them ……. ” ane boru choodana… ” This nation is no better to Pakistanies. Media men are so biased for some hindden reasons.
You talk about torture and sexual violence. Just look at the manner they behave in Parliament…. so called the most respectable place in the country according to their rhetoric.
LOOKING at the folks, most of them abuse their exchanges even on social media forum. The mental disease of the people is not easily curable. That can take many more years.
Today, almost any low lives would attack incumbent president and PM as notimes in the past.
I think more freedom is a wrong medicine to our folks.
Native Vedda / August 7, 2017
KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera
“I think the new Yahaapalan FM must arrange a Visit for Dr Brian to spend a good three weeks at least , touring Yahapalana Srilanka…..”
It is a good news to me. When did you first start thinking? By the way you have been a good experienced b***s carrier to MR. When did you decide to change your job from a b***s carrier to white van operator?
Good luck with your new job. Don’t get caught on the job.
K A Sumanasekera / August 8, 2017
Dear Native…….Be sensible…..Dr Brain married a Vellala woman…. He believes in equal rights for them ,, There is no issue there ….. Through his commitment to what he believes, he may have backed Pirahaparan, who was not about Equal Rights for all…. Was he ?… .Although your mates Sambandan Sivjilinganm, Abraham are still there there is no LTTE according to the new Army Chief who was hand picked by Yahapalana Sira………So Dr Brian has nothing to worry, as he will get full protection from the Army Chief…….But UNP IGP I am not sure…..Because he reckons LTTE is on the rise, although they are under Sivajilingam, who also says no LTTE there….. I am all for equal rights….. But I am against Tamil and Muslims having two separate States run by Sambandan , Sivajilingam Ahraham Wigneswaram And the Wahabi Mob Hakeem, Sally, Bathtudeen and Marrickkar…… Separately or joined together…….And that is 1/3 of our land…….That will leave us only two thirds , to live under Sira and Dr Ranil……..Just imagine having 7 each of Mallikas, Managalans, Kirras, Dr Ranils, Rajithas, Senasinghes, …….And even Mustafas, Thambi Marrickars and even UNP Tamils to look after our Dalits.. ……..
Native Vedda / August 8, 2017
KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera
“Dr Brain married a Vellala woman”
So did your spiritual guru the public racist HLD M.
“He believes in equal rights for them “
HLD M is p****d off with them, perhaps not paying the agreed dowry.
So what is the problem?
Can’t you tell the political brat off in your own language? I cant bear when you are being humiliated by this crook. Its our job.
Jim softy / August 7, 2017
Mr. Brian Senevirathne: I heard that the govt knows some LTTE tamils visited Sinhale as tourists. But, there are, quite a lot, escaped heroic LTTE – Brigadiers too. I think they will be given free lifts in white vans at BIA.
Brian Senewiratne / August 7, 2017
thank you, Mr Sumanasekera
I would love to spend a “good 3 weeks” in Sri Lanka provided you come with me and see that I come back in one piece. I have been repeatedly asked if i can go back to Sri Lanka. I have said that there is no problem going back to Sri Lanka – indeed they would welcome me and arrange free transport to Joseph Camp in Vavuniya.
To get out of that the ‘fee’ needed will be considerable since they will surely know that I am a Consultant Physician. (The ‘fee’ is negotiable but is unlikely to be a few dollars with someone holding the position in Australia that I do).
Chandrika Kumaratunga, someone I know, when she was President, did invite me and like a fool I actually decided to go. It was my Australian colleagues who work with me in the Hospital who told me that I will be mad to go.
I am reluctant to say this but I think the situation in the Tamil North and East is steadily getting worse. The recent ITJP publication which I have summarised from 89 pages to 23 pages certainly indicates that torture is on the increase.
what is also of serious concern is that those exitiing Sri Lanka are not just the Tamils, but also the Sinhalese. I am very concerned that outstanding people like the lawyer and human rights activist Lakshan Dias had to flee the country a few weeks ago havng been threatened by the Minister of Justice. What was his crime? He stated in a TV show the number of Christian establishments attacked after the Sirisena government took over. he was asked to withdraw that at once and if he did not he would be prevented from working as a lawyer “and more’ (unspecified). he wisely decided to leave the country and Sri Lanka lost one of the most outstanding human rights lawyers with a record not matched byanyone I know.
Spring Koha / August 7, 2017
Dr Senewiratne is right to show circumspect.
Alas, Sri Lanka remains a high risk venture for Tamils and apologists.
There can be no guarantees for his safety because there are still too many loose cannons around willing to take unilateral action. Eight years have passed since the end of the war, but little progress has been made in tempering the raw emotions of the memories. The good doctor continues to be considered the worst type of ‘traitor’.
You are better advised to stay safe down under, and continue your campaign to bring change.
thondamannay / August 7, 2017
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Eusense / August 7, 2017
This Brian Seneviratna is stupid or what?
He claims himself a physician. How many journal articles has he read on medical topics, specially related to medical research. The first glance on such an article should be the methodology used to arrive at conclusions made. If methods used are questionable no one takes those articles seriously.
If he has a little brain he should look at the methodology used in this ITJP report.
Lets look at it;
“The Report is based on sworn testimony from 24 victims of torture who have fled abroad to Europe, mainly the UK. About 3-4 days were spent with every witness with a trusted interpreter in a safe place. The statements taken were translated and read back to the victim in Tamil before it was signed. Statements were also supported by medico-legal reports when possible, psychological reports and documents from ICRC, Migration reports, Courts, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Council, scar photographs and media reports where applicable.”
The whole report is based on nothing but testimony of asylum seekers! What do you expect them to say?? Nothing happened but I want asylum? Not a single Tamils or Sinhalese living in Sri Lanka has been interviewed. Why not interview Sinhalese living with Tamils and Tamils living in the south with the Sinhalese?
How could anyone with a little brain take this report of junk seriously?
The well known Anti Sri Lankan Sooka has been considered as a truth preacher! We who live in SL has never heard Why did not this ITPJ visit SL and do a joint investigation with gov. of Sri Lanka. If the gov. does not corporate or try to fudge findings they should publicize that to the world.
To you Seneviratna; Have you ever tried to find out a single Tamil family who claims that their next in kin was a Tiger terrorists fighter? Where are they?
Do you know what happened to those thousands of Tiger combatants and where their families are?
I am waiting for you answers
Native Vedda / August 7, 2017
“This Brian Seneviratna is stupid or what?”
Since you are not sure about him and in doubt he is definitely not a stupid.
By the way HLD M too needs a padikkama or two. sach is looking into it.
Eusense / August 7, 2017
Answer my questions if this imbecile don’t answer.
If not, keep your dumb mouth shut and stop writing garbage as responses!
Native Vedda / August 8, 2017
When did you become part of the CT establishment?
Eusense / August 8, 2017
Answer my questions or get lost
Native Vedda / August 8, 2017
What was the question?
Are you looking for your Padikkama? sach, Champa, Shenal, ……. looking for it. Calm down.
Eusense / August 8, 2017
padikkam vedda (aka tiger terrorist from the missing person’s list),
You asked, “what was the question?”
I can explain the question to you, but I can’t understand it for you!