Sources from the Legal Division of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) have confirmed to Colombo Telegraph that the SLA has complied with the Right to Information appeal filed by a female captain of the Army (anonymous) to the RTI Commission. She had made allegations of sexual harassment against a senior officer in the SLA but had not been given any documentation or conclusions of the court martial inquiry held in that regard.
She had written to the top hierarchy of the Army for more than a year asking for that information, including appealing to the Commander of the Army but had not been given any relevant documents. After that, she had come to the RTI Commission following the operationalization of Sri Lanka’s RTI Act in February 2017.
According to the reports reaching Colombo Telegraph, the convening order of the court-martial, the conclusions of the court-martial and related documentation and the adverse reports filed against the female captain in respect of whom disciplinary action had been taken were all released by the SLA following a direction issued by the RTI Commission.
Reporting on this earlier, Colombo Telegraph stated that the SLA had pleaded ‘internal procedures’ to delay giving of the information and had asked the affected female soldier to appeal again through the hierarchy of the SLA. However at the initial hearing before the Commission, the SLA had been expressly informed by the RTI Commission that ‘internal procedures’ were not an acceptable reason to be given by the SLA under the RTI Act.
Following up on this story, Colombo Telegraph has now learnt that the SLA had informed the Commission that it would also furnish further documentation in its possession as required by the affected female soldier.
Traditionally court martial inquiries in Sri Lanka are covered by high secrecy and details in relation to the inquiry are not released. An unofficial ‘honour code’ covers acts of military men and even female soldiers have nowhere to go to when they are discriminated against or abused. This contributes to the growth of a culture of fear within the military structure.
This is the same in other countries including the United States where claims of sexual harassment by female soldiers are very high. A high figure of almost 2/3 of US military women claims to have been subjected to some kind of sexual harassment. Earlier this year, the US Department of Defence (DOD) stated that the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2016 showed 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted which is 5,400 fewer than the 20,300 sexual assault victim reports estimated in 2014. The fiscal 2016 report also shows that one in three service members chose to report their assaults last year, which is increased from one in four people in 2014.
The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) does not maintain any statistics comparable to the US reports and its internal procedures in respect of allegations of sexual harassment are very weak and legally not up to standard, sources informed Colombo Telegraph.