Law enforcement establishment in Sri Lanka have openly acted with prejudice against sexually abused women in the North and East, by even going to the extent of telling a victim to marry the man who raped her, while the continuing culture of impunity has intensified sexual abuse against women and children in the North and East provinces.
The 22 page report titled ‘Women’s Access to Justice in the North and East of Sri Lanka’ by the Women’s Action Network (WAN) said police officers often do not take complaints by women seriously. “In one case, a woman made a domestic violence complaint to the police, and the police called her husband, who told the police she had danced at her sister’s engagement party. The police had then told the woman that dancing and her henna on her hands were “against the culture” and that she shouldn’t be doing such things,” the report said.
In another case, women activists in Vavuniya reported that one police officer had made a comment that if a girl is raped, she should ‘just’ marry her rapist.
According to the report, sometimes police even ask for bribes from the husbands, or otherwise the police pressure the woman to withdraw the case. In Mullaitivu, women’s organizations reported that police could be manipulated with money or other favors. They might allow the husband to slip away after receiving money and even release the culprit on bail but would neglect to inform the woman who filed the case. “In Kilinochchi, women’s organizations reported that favoritism is everywhere. If someone has influence or a connection to the police, the process will go smoothly. If not, a woman will have to wait in line to file her case,” the report said.
The report noted that delays and lack of gender sensitivity in the justice system, combined with inactivity and corruption in law enforcement, have further entrenched the culture of impunity in the country. “The safety and security of women, particularly Tamil women, has been threatened due to the virtual immunity enjoyed by men, particularly from the armed forced, who are celebrated as war heroes and victors. Perpetrators of sexual violence in the armed forces have been allowed to hold on to their powerful positions irrespective of being accused of committing grave forms of sexual violence or ordering such violations,” the report said.
In one incident which occurred in Batticaloa in 2009, a 24-year old woman was raped and murdered. Her mother is still going to court seeking justice for her murdered daughter.
In Batticaloa District, there were 163 domestic violence cases reported in 2014 and 164 in 2015. In Ampara District, there were 363 domestic violence cases in 2014 and 334 in 2015. From 2014-2015, there were 20 reported rapes in Batticaloa, 54 reported rapes in Ampara, 44 cases of child abuse in Batticaloa and 95 child abuse cases in Ampara. In many instances many women refrain from talking about domestic violence because of the cultural stigmas around it and the value placed on marriage.
The report highlighted that intimate partner violence remains a widespread problem in the North and East, and many women’s organizations report that this form of violence is increasing. In Kilinochchi, women said they have never seen domestic violence before like they see it now and that new cases surface on a daily basis.
The report urged authorities to ensure timely justice for sexual violence against women and children. “Investigate, prosecute, and punish those who are accused of rape and sexual abuse, especially those in positions of power, and end impunity in regards to violence against women,” the report said.
WAN also said that all cases must be promptly investigated and prosecuted. “Declare violence against women and girls, particularly sexual violence, a national crisis,” the report said.
The report also called for the immediate appointment of a special team to handle cases that are pending in the Attorney General’s Department to come for trial.
The head of a women’s organization in Batticaloa said that long delays in the justice process contributed to the increasing violence: it takes a minimum of six years, usually around ten years, for a criminal case involving adults to come to trial; a case involving children takes less time, approximately six to seven years. In Vavuniya, activists said that one woman had been trying to get justice for 16 years.
Another issue facing abused women in the provinces was the lack of Tamil speaking police officers. “In locations where there are no Tamil-speaking female officers, Tamil women who report domestic violence have to tell their stories to male officers or translators. Translations themselves most often imbued with patriarchal attitudes and are biased in favor of the perpetrators,” the report said.
The report also highlighted instances where the police emergency number 119 was almost ‘useless.’ In many cases, the emergency number was reported to be very unreliable as once a complaint is lodged, police might visit the scene of the incident or will not.
“In Mannar, the emergency number, 1-1-9, was reported to be unreliable: “Sometimes the police will come. Sometimes they will not come. Sometimes they will be late.” There are no Tamil officers on the emergency response team at the police station, so calls to 1-1-9 can only be made in Sinhala. In Kilinochchi, four women from different service organizations reported that they had never once had success with 1-1-9, either with receiving an answer or getting any assistance,” the report said. (By Munza Mushtaq)