25 May, 2017

Sri Lanka’s Survivors Of Torture & Sexual Violence

By Charles Sarvan

Prof. Charles Sarvan

Prof. Charles Sarvan

A Still Unfinished War: Sri Lanka’s Survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence, 2009 – 2015. International Truth & Justice Project, London, July 2015.

The above (hereafter, Report) is “dedicated to the survivors who trusted us enough to tell us about their darkest days in the hope of saving others from the same fate”. It also recognises the many strangers in foreign lands “who have helped individual witnesses in different ways – fed them, looked after their children, interpreted for them, visited them in detention, offered help finding doctors or lawyers, supplied warm clothes, or who have just been a voice at the end of the phone to calm them when they panic” (p. 8). The ‘Report’ is similar to We Will Teach You a Lesson: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces’, Human Rights Watch publication, 2013. ISBN: 1-56432-993-3. (See Sarvan Colombo Telegraph: 3 April 2015.) I thank Mr. Chinnathamby Nadarajah Suseenthiran for giving me a copy of the Report.

A problem in reading case after case is what can be described as a morphological similarity: arrest, torture, horrible sexual abuse, ransom. However, the Report argues the similarity indicates that the practises of the security forces were systematic and institutionalised, the intention being to sow terror among those Tamils “remaining behind” (p. 16). A further problem is that distaste and disgust set in; an emotional fatigue. I must confess that, perhaps exacerbated by my near-octogenarian age, I found it very difficult to read, and so to encounter, these cases. But then I asked myself: If I find it difficult and distressing merely to read, how must it be for those who go through the ordeal, who live the experience? They are forced to endure the unendurable. To protect witnesses and their relations back in “the Paradise Isle”, identifying detail is omitted (often, witnesses, having been blindfolded, do not know where they were taken) with the result that the Report is both specific and necessarily vague.

Trincomalee Naval Dockyard Secret Torture SiteThe Report is based on 180 cases of post-war torture and / or sexual violence, and is the result of “painstaking research and cross-referencing” (p. 6). Evidence, the Report states, was taken by experienced international war-crime and sexual abuse investigators (p. 23). Witnesses were either interviewed by experts or supplied medical legal reports of examining international doctors and psychiatrists who are experts in assessing allegations of torture (p. 12). The most recent case included is dated July 2015. Rape of this kind is extremely painful (“a pipe was forced into his anus with a piece of barbed wire inside it. Then the pipe was removed, leaving the barbed wire inside.” “This witness has a medical legal report from an expert in assessing torture victims that corroborates” his evidence (p.32). They forced a piece of wire “up my penis… I was screaming in pain” (p. 98). Enduring such indescribable pain utterly degrades the victims: soldiers and others laughed and made fun of me as I walked back with my head down in shame. “As I made that long and painful walk back to the hall, I could only manage to button the top of two buttons of my blouse… My entire lower skirt was soaked in blood” (p. 31). We must bear in mind that such experiences are never in the past. Psychiatrists and social-workers testify that the victims never recover fully: the harm is life-long.

Why is rape by the security forces accompanied by gross and vulgar humiliation of the victims? The degradation extends even beyond death. Words from Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1, come to mind: “wrath in death and [malice] after”. “They were kicking and stepping on the dead bodies […] One girl had a stick sticking into the air from her vagina. One of the soldiers yanked it out and rammed it into her vagina again” (p. 49). “I saw them mutilate the bodies with small sticks and stones being forced into their vaginas along with small knives” (p. 50). In my review of The Cage by Gordon Weiss, published in the Sunday Leader, 12 June 2011, I suggest an explanation, turning to the words of Nazi Franz Stangl, commander of the Treblinka extermination camp. Stangl explained (see Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness) that humiliation is essential. “Otherwise, those who carried out state policy and committed barbaric acts would have found it difficult to commit such grossly inhumane acts” (Sarvan). One cannot mete out such savage treatment unless one denies and erases the humanity of the other. Degradation removes all sense of a common, shared, human identity and makes cruelty permissible, even laudable. Before one lives with others, one must live with oneself, with one’s self-image. And so the individual must justify to himself or herself rightness of conduct; vindicate the cruelty unleashed. The effect (or result) of degradation – here, pitiful, helpless, frightened and screaming individuals with all human dignity seemingly cancelled out – is used to justify the cause (that is, the treatment meted). It is a terrible cycle of effect justifying cause, and cause creating effect. The bestiality can also have other, political, calculation: “Go and tell your people how you have been tortured so that they will never be an LTTE, it should not even be in anyone’s dream” (p. 84). The same victim was warned not to tell foreigners: “She said the only ones I should tell were other Tamil women so that they would never rise up again” (ibid).

Much of this extreme evil is attributed by the Report, rightly or wrongly, to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary when his brother was President. He is alleged to have encouraged torture and rape, assuring immunity to the perpetrators. “None of the perpetrators made any attempt to hide their own identities from their victims” (p. 40). “We were never masked. We were not afraid of being identified or later tried in a court for what we did” (p. 63).

Only security personnel can brazenly torture and rape but apart from the sexual and the political, the Report claims, there is a monetary motive. Members of the army, navy, police and others from the Terrorism Investigation Division, the Report states, act in collusion with human-traffickers to get victims out of the Island, relations having paid a substantial bribe: see, page 40. In “Power is a means to an end” it is sometimes taken to mean the realization of some good but, if what the Report alleges has foundation, then power here is both means and end: It is power for the sake of power; the power to bully, humiliate and torture; the power to rape and to exploit financially.

The failure to subject the conclusion of the war to impartial, international, examination means, the Report suggests, that human-rights violations continue in (so-called) peace time. Immunity for wartime violations has encouraged security forces “to continue to commit crimes against humanity” (p. 9). President Maithripala Sirisena was elected on 8 January 2015 but tragically “systematic and widespread crimes against humanity have not ceased (ibid). Torture and sexual violence have continued unabated. The immunity permitted by the state is seen by the security forces as approval of their behaviour. There is no enthusiasm in the “South” for justice since it would see senior political and military figures being investigated (p. 11). “Despite the findings expressed in our March 2014 Report, the findings of other international independent persons […] neither the Rajapakse government nor the Sirisena government has taken any effective steps to investigate, prevent, punish, or explicitly prohibit widespread and systematic torture and sexual violence targeting Tamils” (p. 22). It “amounts to state-sponsored organised crime, persecutory kidnapping, torture and ransoming by the security forces” (p. 25).

The last relative remaining in Sri Lanka of a Tamil who gave a number of media interviews abroad, his father, was “beaten by the security forces and died as a result of his injuries” (p. 23). A global web of silence ensures that crimes remain hidden and immunity preserved which, in turn, licenses further torture, rape and extortion. “This sort of persecution is an extremely effective way of securing a global web of silence of victims, which ensures the crimes committed remain hidden, so that the long-standing culture of impunity in Sri Lanka continues unabated” (p. 26).

The dictum of Lord Acton, 1834 – 1902, that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (totally) is usually read as referring to those who have, and wield, power. Going by the present Report, we see this in the treatment of Tamil victims, women and men, over whom the security forces, having absolute power, have lost all decency and humanity. They are a shame to themselves and to the people, religion and culture to whom / which they claim to belong and for whom / which they act. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that if in a situation of oppression we remain silent then we have, in effect, sided with the oppressor. So it is too with corruption. At the least, those who remain indifferent or silent about corruption have to a degree become corrupted. In a corrupt situation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to remain uncontaminated. Survival, not to mention success and advancement, dictates that one to some degree participates in corruption. Tamils in the occupied areas, helpless and ‘hope-less’ are also in danger of becoming corrupted in various ways. For example: “an extensive network of Tamils [work] as informers for the security forces” (p. 48). “One such informer is the Jaffna Sports organiser of the LTTE” (p. 106). I see it as “a big betrayal especially after he convinced so many young people to join who then gave their lives for freedom and then for money he works with the security forces, those that harmed us” (ibid). It is very difficult for a demoralised (from, ‘de – moralised’) people to retain traditional morality. Absolute power; power beyond law and justice; power without decency and humanity; corrupts absolutely. Total power corrupts both the “power-full” and the “power-less”.

In conclusion, I quote from Page 44 of the Report: “Witnesses are still fleeing abroad from Sri Lanka six years after the end of the fighting. They have endured not only starvation, bombardment, displacement, injury, bereavement of close family members, loss of worldly possessions and unimaginable trauma in the final phase of the conflict in 2009, but also years of arbitrary detention after the war, with phases of extremely brutal torture and sexual violence and threats or attacks on family members. Their prolonged suffering is hard to imagine and their bravery in testifying is all the more admirable, especially when many are not safe themselves and fear for their close families back home”. The Report’s title is STOP which I read both as “Stop arbitrary arrest, torture and rape” and an appeal to humanity’s conscience to stop and pay attention. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations, 1:12).

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  • 3
    3
    There are long standing issues due to exploitation. The Rich, the famous, the powerful and many others comit crimes againts huminity. There are many acts of torture and rape in society that go unreported. It is to be adimited if this reports true it is the tip of a iceberg. The maqny people who witnessed this are also guilty. Poverty and dire need caused many to bow to the wishes of the forces. Social isues to this day causes gross injustice including rape. Blatant or not it is a crime againts man. DNA testing is the only way of positive confarmation of this crime. Thee is however a another side of the coin. The Ltte are known to use people in human trafficing and drugs, alcohol and other illegal means to generate funds. They commited attrocities againts many including there race. What ever the reason many were silent. T%hey to are guilty. The IPKF commited crimes. The Jvp also spawned atrocities including Matale. Every day there are hidden crimes that are not made public due to wealth, position and political power. We must stand againts all injustice. The USA act of torture. As a player they acted againts our fight againts terror. This spawned a extension to the war that created many misdeeds. Many soldiers joined due to their poverty. Fear did strange things. Where there wa simunity crimes flourish. society as a whole is responsible. Both sides even conservatives took a exgarerated stand. They are responsible. Hate speech has to be banned and punished. It is posible to create false reports. Doctors and men do all for what they think is for thir race. Real rape can be mimices for evidence. Speciay people who are in human trafficing. Whjere DNA reports are not available or confessions Here also seduction by victim can create evidence.it is not possible to prove such crimes. LTTE would have commited such crimes agiants the frontier people. What has to be done is to identify victims and hekp them. Men without parents, widows and orphans must be helped. The homeless should be provided with reasonable shelter. Restitution is a must. \
  • 11
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    Prof. Sarvan, Thank You. The SL Tamil community needs people like you to keep the spotlight on this issue, and keep it alive until justice is meted out. They don’t have a Simon Wiesenthal, but a sensitive and elegant writer like you can open eyes and provide an antidote to indifference.
  • 9
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    There is frenetic discussion of a Muslim young man murdered during the Rajapakse regime. All is forgotten about the series of killings of Tamils from 1956 to 1958 to Black July, the 70,000 at Mullivaikal and thereafter. The Report, as Dr Sarvan, points out, indicates that killings and torture by an army in occupation continue the genocidal policies that were commenced at the time of independence of Sri Lanka. On the same day Mr Jayasinghe writes in CT that “our people are not black” What greater blackness can there be in the Sinhalese Buddhist people than the fact that they have decimated so many lives over a course of years in the name of their language and religion? True it is that the Tigers killed but their killings started much later and are condemnable. They are not there anymore. There is a culture of killing in the country. THe army has been brutalized, first by the killing of their own Sinhalese youth in several thousands. It is strange that no Sinhalese mother protests about them. We have one brave woman, the wife of the journalist Ekneligoda, fighting against what was done to him. Where are the others who lost their young? Is there no empathy that the Sinhalese feel for those who have lost their lives? All the banas and sanctimonious chantings that go on despite the tremendous loss of lives around them, shows a callous people who have not shown any sympathy
    • 4
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      Ponkoh Sivakumaran “It is strange that no Sinhalese mother protests about them.” What you have typed above is not true. Had you been kept a vigil over the entire island you would have seen Sinhala mothers silently protesting about their disappeared kith and kin. Since you are a Jaffna Tamil with a self serving mindset you would not have noticed the atrocities committed in the East let alone in the south. Read this excerpt: Do women play a role in Sri Lanka’s ‘reconciliation’?: Gender dynamics in the transition from war to peace Women for Peace In the South, women came together to form ‘Women for Peace’ in 1984 and comprised women from a cross section of society: from trade union members, women’s rights and human rights activists, politicians, lawyers, doctors, and journalists, to women representing different religions, teachers and writers. In 1984, Women for Peace collected 10,000 signatures calling for peace and for political dialogue between the government and the Tamil political leadership at the time. Women for Peace was also ‘possibly the first women’s organisation in the South to highlight the issue of internal displacement. This was done following contact with organsations in the Vanni that were engaged in the resettlement of displaced plantation and hill country Tamils in the area’.[4] The (Southern) Mothers’ Front The formation of this organisation was a direct result of the conflict that took place in the South in the late 1980s and early 1990 when women as wives, mothers, sisters came together to protest the deaths and disappearance of young men and women due to the political violence that prevailed at the time. Samuel (2006) notes the words of one of its founding members, Mrs. Manorani Sarvanamuttu, whose journalist son, Richard de Zoysa, had been abducted and disappeared during this period, ‘Make no mistake, our aim is peace, our method is peaceful. We have wept alone and have come together for comfort. From this has arisen our desire to collectively seek peace in our country’.[5] Other organized initiatives by women. The list of women’s leadership in advocacy for peace, for a political resolution to the ethnic conflict, against assassinations and disappearances, are many. Both International Women’s Day, March 8th, and the regular 16-day campaign against violence against women beginning on 25th November and ending with International Human Rights Day on 10th December, have been used by many women’s organizations for over 2 decades to highlight women’s concerns and women’s advocacy for peace. In the year 2000, women numbering more than 2000 gathered under the banner ‘Towards a Peaceful Society free of War and Violence’ in a demonstration organized by the Sri Lanka Women’s NGO Forum and the Mothers and Daughters of Lanka. Organisations such as the Sinhala Kantha Abhivurdhi Sanvidanaya, the Association of War Affected Women, Women’s Coalition for Peace, among others, actively campaigned, ranging from meetings with key decision makers, public statements, and advocacy marches, to social service such as providing economic assistance to women in ‘border’ villages. These efforts are but a few examples among a myriad of interventions that categorically displayed the role women in peace-making across ethnic, class, religious and regional divides. Exchange visits between women’s organizations in the South and the North and the East strove to maintain, build amicable relationships between the ethnic communities even amidst war and despite war rhetoric by both sides. . Despite these serious grass root level initiatives by thousands of women across the country, formal processes towards resolving the ethnic conflict and ending the war remained out of reach to most women’s organizations. There was little or no acknowledgement of a ‘Role’ for women in the ethnic conflict other than that of female combatant, victim of war or war widow. The gender dynamics of war and peace-making appeared to have closed the doors to even to a hearing on what women had to say. http://groundviews.org/2012/08/21/ do-women-play-a-role-in-sri-lankas- reconciliation-gender-dynamics-in- the-transition-from-war-to-peace/
  • 5
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    The so called Political Scientist and a smart patriot, his terrorist expert friend , who both hold PhD only see terrorism by JVP, LTTE & other rebel groups as evil and have been supporting the state terror without any conscience. This include the liberal party man with PhD in English. Even now it is not too late for these experts or PhD holders to speak about state terror through the armed forces and particularly the continuing terror of various forms on the civilians even after 2002. These PhD holders never spoke about the poor discipline in the one race dominated armed forces during the war and after the war. Neverthless one of the expert who is no more a SL citizen boast about how the rebels were rehabilitated with his input. These so called Experts never accept it was the repeated failures of Srilankan political leaders since 1947 that lead to rebellion by both Sinhalese youths and Taml Youths at different periods of post independence SL
  • 8
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    It’s not only Tamils who suffered in this way. Now the case of Wasim Thajudeen has been revealed in all its gory details and there was the forced circumcision of Rev. Watareka Vijitha Thero for speaking out against extremism which many seem to have forgotten. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/anti-bbs-monk-mercilessly-flogged-for-second-time/comment-page-1/#comments Tamil activists would do well to understand that the culture of impunity reached out to all Sri Lankans, until January 2015 brought a sea change.
    • 5
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      Sinhala_Man, “Tamil activists would do well to understand that the culture of impunity reached out to all Sri Lankans, until January 2015 brought a sea change.” I agree. Thank you. I expect to see more change after the elections.
  • 5
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    Prof Charles Sarvan Sir, if you read Amnesty International’s report dated 20th may 1987 titled ” Reports of torture ill treatment and unhygienic conditions in Boosa Army Camp ” you will find similar torture ,sexual abuse, thrusting baton into vagina ( by Mutur Policemen), made to hold each other’s organs and shake it, made to put each other’s organs into their mouths, to place their organs on a stone and hit it with another stone……….endless crime committed on Tamil men and women, mainly from Eastern Province, by state Police ,STF ,Intelligence men, and Forces at Boosa Camp. It goes on to say “several died of diarrhoea dysentery and chest pain, when relations called to visit them the ashes of the dead persons were handed over to them ” We could see a difference here. In 1980s ashes of the arrested persons were given to their relatives. NOW it is complete denial of arrest or keeping quite pretending none of such incidents took place, thus making relatives cry and suffer. Now we all know why Lord Buddha keeps his eyes closed at all times.
  • 0
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    Who is this ” Jaffna sports organiser of LTTE? ” Can anyone reveal this person’s name?
  • 7
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    Nothing Justifies this kind of action by any one one any beings leave alone human beings. People at the the top have to be held accountable no matter what position they held be it politicians or government servants. this happened in 1971 ( Manamperi ) 1983 ( Riots ) 1987 ( JVP ) , 2009 ( Massacre of a minority Community). This Nation has to wake up and call for justice from all Politicians and head of the forces during these times if they are alive.
  • 2
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    So, would all you self righteous pundits explain why the massacre of innocent Tamils in July 1983 is not being investigated ? It was well known that UNP govt at the time were responsible for this murders, looting and burning of houses, vehicles etc. why are these so called human rights activists not speaking of that ??
  • 1
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    What about the 11,000 Muslims and the 13,000 Sinhalese who were tortured, raped and killed by the Tamils when they ran their own administration in Jaffna? Muslims are being routinely subjected to torture and rape by the Tamils covered up Nothern Provincial Council to this day. The writer is well aware of this situation.
    • 3
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      simon You have raised some unbelievably valid points. “Muslims are being routinely subjected to torture and rape by the Tamils covered up Nothern Provincial Council to this day. The writer is well aware of this situation.” It is terrible. I would have thought it is the police which is run by the Sri Lankan state is responsible for crime detection and prevention. Why haven’t the Muslims reported these atrocities to the police? How many Muslims do you think still residing in the lawless Northern province? “What about the 11,000 Muslims and the 13,000 Sinhalese who were tortured, raped and killed by the Tamils when they ran their own administration in Jaffna?” When was this? Why haven’t they reported to UNHRC?
      • 2
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        Dear Native Vedda, I just gave you an approval, but beware, the significance of the satire is not always appreciated. That is the danger of satire. The guy who wrote this dangerous piece got beaten up by those who didn’t realise that he was no cannibal: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm However, I guess that ultimately a guy like you has the satisfaction of knowing that you have got people do some thinking, although all that you get are brickbats.
      • 0
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        Native Vedda You have raised some valid points. “Why haven’t they reported to UNHRC?” They don’t have a diaspora like you. I have decided to highlight this cover up in the international media. Why did you take two years after the end of war to report to UNHRC? I got these exact figures from the same source you got your figures. Your sexual perverts like professor Savan have described what happened in graphic detail.
        • 1
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          Simple simon “I got these exact figures from the same source you got your figures.” Where have I quoted my figures? Probably you are half sleep. Go back to bed come back when you are freshened and focused. “Your sexual perverts like professor Savan have described what happened in graphic detail.” He never visited me in my habitat, deep, deep, deep in the jungle. Did you have bad experience with the professor? Anyhow I don’t want to come between you and him. It must be a private matter and must keep it that way. “They don’t have a diaspora like you. I have decided to highlight this cover up in the international media.” You should do that as soon as possible. How can I help you? In the mean time cover yourself properly. You don’t want to meet the media naked.
      • 0
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        His audience is not the CT readership. You and I know the facts. His audience is the “International Community”. My audience is also the International community. Unsuspecting Westerners have been fooled throughout by the Tamils whose purpose was to gain immigration to western countries. Now they are on high gear for getting ‘International community” involved in the Ealam project. My intention is to carry the truth to the International community and expose these LTTE criminals who hide under the cloaks of “professors”.
  • 2
    0
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