As recent reports of the maltreatment of the young Tamil girls recruited into the exclusively Sinhala army make headlines, attention to the long and systematic use of sexual violence and abuse draws attention at the 25thsession of the UNHuman Rights Council (HRC). Amnesty International organized a well-attended side event entitled, ‘An unfinished war: Torture and sexual violence in Sri Lanka from 2009-2014’. The principal presenter was the prominent women’s rights activist Ms.Yasmin Sooka, who leads the International Truth and Justice Project, the report’s publisher. Ms. Sooka brings to the project long experience and an impeccable reputation having been a member and contributor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa as well as the Ivory Coast.
This presentation by Ms. Sooka was based on a research project of 40 Tamils, 20 men and 20 women,who were subject to rape and torture, by the Sri Lankan armed forces. It confirmed a long existing pattern with these abuses having their origin in the horrific times of the JVP insurrection, later the perpetrators enjoyed high posts in the uniformed services. The culture of impunity in the governmental forces was apparent then, and is, as highlighted by this report, a recurring problem that persists. In all these 40 cases the victims managed to leave Sri Lanka and an overwhelming majority of them are now in the UK allowing this research to be done and to be made public.
Ms. Sooka spoke to those attending the HRC meeting, who are concerned about the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka. The results gave ample evidence that these practices are not ancient, but reflect the present tragedy of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The report is confined to Post War Sri Lanka, noting that these violations continue beyond the formal cessation of the war. Of the 40 cases examined an overwhelming 21 cases of violations were reported between 2013 and 2014, one as late as February 2014; 15 cases in 2011-2012, 4 cases in 2009-2010. It is not known how many were victims of this brutal savagery in the Manik farm camps in the years from 2009 to 2012. All the victims are 20 to 35 in age and come from the North and East of Sri Lanka.
Part of the intent of examining these 40 victims was to establish whether the many allegations of sexual abuse and torture were credible or not. 9 investigators, some from Asia questioned these victims and obtained 38 sworn statements supported by medico-legal reports. All these findings confirmed that the victims were subject to rape and torture by the security forces. It must be noted Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Convention against Torture (CAT) and ‘torture’ is prohibited by International Law. By this Convention there is ‘no justification, under any circumstance’ to use torture, but it continues unabated in Sri Lanka, even after the war is formally ended. Torture, as was repeatedly noted at the session, is an international crime subject to universal jurisdiction. In the recent past torturers have been tried, convicted and punished by both international and domestic courts. International law does not respect the impunity of any person, either government officials or members of the military for any act of torture.
Of the 40, 32 victims were abducted and taken in a ‘white van’ and the rest, 8 of them, were abducted by those in by either cars or jeeps. All the victims were blindfolded and did not know their destinations. None of them were shown arrest warrants. Interrogations were done by both men and women. They were all forced to give confessions as to their participation or membership in the LTTE.
33 of them were fingerprinted and photographed. All of them were forced to sign statements in Sinhala, an alien language to them or on blank papers, confessing that they were associated with the LTTE. Many were even sent to the rehabilitation camps and some after release were re-arrested.
35 of them had stated that they were tortured even after signing the confession papers. They were all released only after their families paid bribes to the abductors who wore governmental uniforms. 36 of them paid the bribes to the intermediaries, who included the EPDP and the Karuna group. 30 victims stated that the perpetrators revealed their faces.
The pattern of torture included flogging using plastic pipes filled with sand and cement, iron bars, cricket wickets, batons, cable, stripped electric wires.
20 victims were burnt with cigarettes, 20 were beaten with pipes, 26 were forced into polythene bags containing petrol and/orchilies, 28 were subjected to water torture, 19 of them were hung upside down. All 40 of them were beaten, kicked and slapped.
Of the 20 women, 17 were raped vaginally and anally, 12 men were raped anally and 21 had to engage in forced oral sex, 30 were injured and rendered unconscious, 16 were gang raped.
19 of them admitted to have attempted suicide. After release these people were handed over to the family members and amazingly they were provided travel documents and allowed to leave Sri Lanka. Some of them reached India by boat and then reached the UK. Some went to Colombo and then travelled to UK with unhindered access attesting that the immigration authorities took part in this unholy nexus.
90% of them admitted that they worked for the LTTE at lower levels, with little authority, in such positions as messengers or couriers. 90% of them had left LTTE before the final war began in 2007. Some of them were forcibly recruited into the LTTE with their families supporting or were members of the LTTE.
The investigation revealed that the perpetrators included members of the defense forces, Special Task Force, CID, TID, Police, military intelligence, immigration officials, EPDP and the Karuna group.
YasminSooka pointed out that Sri Lanka is a signatory to pertinent international instruments including, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT), Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), all of which prohibit torture and protect the rights of all the victims without discrimination. The fact that victims were exclusively Tamil compounds the violations as being discriminatory based on ethnicity.
Sri Lanka as a signatory of these International Instruments is obliged to investigate these acts, pay compensation to the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice providing remedies to the victims. It is an obligation demanded of Sri Lanka when it signed and or ratified these International Instruments and continues subject to review by international monitoring bodies.
In the post war situation Sri Lanka has developed an extensive surveillance and intelligence system. As a result when diaspora Tamils return to Sri Lanka to meet family members they are easily targeted and have become victims of abductions, arbitrary detentions, torture and sexual violence. Even after nearly five years after ending the war, Sri Lanka regards every Tamil in the North and East as a potential LTTE suspect. Its practices are neither consistent with the government claims of reconciliation or its assertions as to the respect for human rights.
These patterns of torture and sexual violence are linked with compelling confessions, inducing a deep trauma with the aim of breaking down those who are tortured, dehumanize them and their families. This is aided by the state backed policies of Sinhalisation and militarization of the Tamil areas as the whole logistical support and finances for these practices comes from the state.
The failure of the state to stop crimes against humanity by its agents and to address the claims of victims, leads to and encourages further attacks. The Government of Sri Lankan continues this new round of war to prevent the Tamils from seeking the protection of all their rights including pursuing their claims to increased autonomy. Simply, Tamil ‘dignity’ and equal protection of human rights are being denied.
For its recommendations the report urges:
- The implementation of a zero tolerance policy towards sexual violence by the UN and its bodies
- It calls upon the Secretary General of the United Nations to refer the reports of sexual abuse and torture to the Security Council with the intent of ultimately referring the claims of criminal behaviour to the International Criminal Court.
- The Secretary General is requested to establish a Commission of Inquiry to inquire into rape and sexual violence.
- The Special Rapportuers and the Special Representatives should visit Sri Lanka and conduct an inquiry into all allegations of sexual abuse and torture.
- Consideration should be given to bar Sri Lankan forces from being part of UN peace keeping operations until it is determined that their presence would not threaten the legitimacy of UN principles
- The call for and the pursuit of a European Union wide study to examine those who returned to Sri Lanka as todetermine whether they were sexually abused or tortured during their stay
- The international donors who funded the post war rehabilitation projects are requested to do an audit of what happened in the camps
- The Diaspora is urged to address the shame and the issues of stigma surrounding these victims.
- There is a call for protecting the witnesses as this may lead to victimization of their family members.
The final appeal is to STOP – Torture and Rape in Sri Lanka. These practices are not isolated events, they are systemic and reflect a pattern of abuse that is conducted and/or condoned by the government and its agents. The message of this report, coupled with the ample evidence of other sources, is that all those committed to human rights are obliged to speak out and support action to cease these abhorrentand illegal practices.
The foreword for this report is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who says, ‘My deepest hope is that the cycle of revenge will be broken. In order for this to happen, the International community must intervene. It is imperative to pierce the skein of impunity that surrounds Sri Lanka – an island where the war is clearly not yet over.”
For the full report kindly click here