17 November, 2017

The Need To Investigate Torture Allegations 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Sri Lanka’s international image has taken a hard hit following the report of continuing torture in the country. The Associated Press has carried a news story that gives a detailed and graphic account of horrendous torture practices in Sri Lanka that allegedly continue to this day. This story has been carried by newspapers and media outlets throughout the world, including the New York Times, which is a prestigious international publication. All the victims in the story are Tamil and the reason why most of them appear to have been tortured is because they were believed to have connections with the LTTE. About 50 asylum seekers in Western countries claim they were subjected particularly vicious acts of torture. These included men who were raped on multiple occasions and even having sticks with barbed wire inserted into them.

Sri Lanka is today seen, both within the country and internationally, as having turned the corner, at least on human rights issues. One of the most common defences of the government’s overall performance is that the sense of freedom from fear has diminished greatly  and the space for political opposition has increased. Partly as a result, Sri Lanka is seen as a more successful third world country in terms of democracy and human rights. It is in this context that the allegations of continuing torture come as a surprise. If the allegations of torture had come during the period of the previous government, it would not have come as a surprise. The previous government had scant respect for the Rule of Law and engaged in the practice of impunity for both political and personal reasons.  This was publicly visible, as the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the murder of Sri Lankan rugby captain Wasim Thajudeen demonstrated.

What is particularly disturbing about the current allegations is that the torture has occurred during the period of the present government which was voted into power on a platform of good governance and respect for human rights. The electorate that voted for the government did so primarily to seek a restoration of a government with a conscience who would take steps to ensure that the past would not return and take the country on a new trajectory of social and economic development. However, there was an early indication that all was not well. This came during the visit by UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism, Ben Emmerson. He said that Sri Lanka’s tolerance of torture, was a “stain on the country’s international reputation”. The UN Special Rapporteur had conflicts with government members, especially the Minister of Justice at that time, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who denied all the claims made by Mr Emmerson, and instead accused him of being biased and having a hidden agenda.

AP Story

In his strongly worded report, the UN Special Rapporteur noted that the practice of torture was continuing. His report stated. “Since the authorities use this legislation disproportionately against members of the Tamil community, it is this community that has borne the brunt of the state’s well-oiled torture apparatus.” However, this report was effectively neutralized within the country by Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who denounced the report as being biased and the product of anti-Sri Lanka manoeuvering. This attack in the context of much worse incidents of torture and violence coming from other parts of the world, including the Middle East where the Western countries are heavily involved, effectively displaced public attention away from the issues of in-country torture and human rights violations. But it now appears that the chickens have come home to roost.

The AP news story, which gives the impression of being well researched, gives prominence to the views of one South African expert in the area of torture reporting. He has said that in the 40 years he has investigated cases of torture, this is the worst he has come across. There also appears to be hard evidence, including physical evidence, that those who are now claiming asylum in the Western countries have actually been subjected to the torture that is described. The question is who did it. The scars are for real.  The AP report itself says that there are some commentators who say that the complainants themselves may have inflicted the injuries upon themselves, or got someone to do it to them, in order to make their asylum applications more convincing. Human Rights officials in Sri Lanka have confirmed that there are many cases of forgeries of their reports by those claiming asylum abroad.

The government statement in response to the story published in the New York Times acknowledges the gravity of the allegations and the damaging impact of the story on the international community’s confidence in the Sri Lankan democratic and good governance process. Both business investors and higher spending foreign tourists tend to be sensitive to human rights issues and to public opinion. They also have a concern that if a country is not protecting human rights and the Rule of Law, then their own safety can be jeopardized. The government’s response is a model of diplomatic restraint.  The government did not go all out to attack and discredit those who were making the complaints against them or the news agencies that published the information. Instead the government statement gives a comprehensive account of the government’s commitment to ensure a torture-free regime.

Restrained Response

Responding on behalf of the government, Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam said that in 2017 disciplinary action had been taken against 33 members of the police for assault and torture, while one officer was dismissed. Disciplinary matter pertaining to 100 police officers he said were currently pending. He added that the government “strongly condemns any act of torture, and will ensure that allegations of torture committed in the country will be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” His statement also highlighted the government’s willingness to host visits by special rapporteurs and other members of the international community who wish to do fact finding and make recommendations to improve the prevailing situation. The government statement acknowledges the seriousness of the situation instead of simply issuing a point by point refutation or blanket denial as was the case with the former government.

However, the seriousness of the allegations contained in the AP story warrant a further government response beyond that of issuing a statement and asking for assistance. The government would do well to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the issue of torture, specifically with regard to the AP report, but also with a wider mandate. It is necessary to know the truth before a solution can be designed. The government needs to appoint commissioners of the caliber of those appointed to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank bond scam which has shown themselves to be highly competent and unafraid to probe all possible sources of evidence to get to the truth. It is not only Tamils and LTTE suspects who are tortured. The most recent report of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka shows that most cases of torture that have been reported are outside of the North and East of the country and affect members of all communities.

The way that Sri Lanka treats the Tamil people of the North and East will be the litmus test of how it will treat all its disempowered and marginalised people. The reality is that as long as the North and East of the country remain in a state of poverty and underdevelopment after the three decades of war, and so long as the military forces remain there in large numbers, there are bound to be human rights violations and other forms of abuse that accompany any serious imbalance in power between civilians and military. There will not only be torture, there will be prostitution, sexual bribery and rape cases that will tend to be under-reported because the victims are afraid and too ashamed to come out into the open and give evidence. All this points to the need for a special commission of inquiry, and one that is not second to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank bond scam in its competence and prestige.

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Latest comments

    • 7
      2

      During a recent visit to the Caribbean there were still outstanding questions about how we handled the child sex exploits of our peacekeepers in Haiti in the light of incontrovertible evidence.

      AND, the UN persist in using our troops as peacekeepers. The UN must be desperate to need our troops whilst this enormous outstanding cloud hangs over it.

      ALL Sri Lankans need to be worried about this blot on our reputation.

  • 6
    2

    Once violence has been unleashed, it has its own momentum. The violence began in order to assert Sinhala dominance over the minorities. It was necessary also to direct the violence that was internal to the Sinhalese who constitute a society characterised by extreme inequalities as evidenced by the two JVP uprisings. The JVP uprisings contained cruelties of unimaginable proportions on both sides. This was followed by the LTTE which also practised atrocities of an unimaginable kind. The state responded unfortunately in a like manner making violence the acceptable response. The story merely continues. Curbing this violence requires an effort that the political system that is geared the promotion of ethnic and religious dominance will not be able to achieve. This is the dilemma we face. The only catharsis is an international tribunal that will look into allegations of such heinous crimes and assure accountability. Otherwise the circle of violence will continue without end.

    • 4
      0

      Mama Sinhalam

      Most victims of violence suffer in silence rather than complain because too often the evidence is that nothing happens, and often victims will suffer for complaining.

      The government in power will always have the ultimate upper hand, and here in sunny Sri Lanka, the government in power will do everything necessary to stay in power. The JVP is a good case in point. Unleashing violence is meat and bread to a determined government, and it will always protect its proxies.

      • 4
        0

        Spring Koha

        But then JVP has always been silent on cases of human rights violation. Why? I do not see, hear, sense, ……………. them protesting for the victims. Is it because they are more patriotic than rest of the people or because their members too practice torture as an art form within the armed forces and police wherever they are employed?

  • 3
    3

    All these claims need to be properly investigated. Unfortunately, the people making the allegations never come forward. It just merely stays as an allegation and placing the government under a cloud. It is really hard to imagine how these 50 victims managed to go to Europe. Were they already there and had torture by proxy?
    How does one investigate these claims when they are shrouded in secrecy? Remember the Darusman report where they made outrageous claims and where the “victims” cannot be questioned for 20 years?
    When the British High Commission refuses to discuss visa issues hiding behind privacy, then it is time for the Government to declare that no investigation can be done unless information is shared.
    I am sure there are quite a few of the “missing” living in Britain and Europe under new identities.

    Can someone share a solution as to how to investigate these matters properly without the accuser coming forward?

    • 2
      0

      Rajiv

      If you are sure about those missing persons living in UK and Europe under new identities, will you do us a favour, collect details of all such persons and pass it on to our diplomatic missions in those countries.?

  • 4
    0

    As long as the Hon: President of Sri Lanka publicly insists that he would not allow any member of the Security forces to be investigated or arrested or prosecuted or punished, the atrocities committed by the security forces will continue with impunity. Only God knows the details of people, especially youths who had been tortured and buried underground or burnt or thrown into the deep sea. That is why, the Government is silent and not giving a solution to the agitation about the missing persons.
    Vela

  • 3
    0

    ” But it now appears that the chickens have come home to roost. “
    Swiss and Australia’s have been with the Genocide government and very reluctant in the past to allow Tamil refugees place claims in their lands. If a refugee is the house head, the family is a refugee family. This goes up to Geneva Convention. Because of the epic proportion of brutal suppression took place in Vanni, it is recognized a substantial portion of North-East has become mentally disabled too. In the recent famous Swiss police shooting case, the victim was one like this. He had placed refugee status claim when he, by his incapacitated activity, was shot by police. Swiss embassy allowed the family to travel to funeral well recognizing that the families have a pending claim on the success of his claim. The family refused to return back, as everybody expected. No language; no idea of that lands’ life style; no relatives or helping hands; no experience to any jobs other than probable farmland labor jobs – The freshwater fish decided to jump into saltwater. Now that family can jump into sea water in the middle of the flight, but cannot come back to land there. It is that much desperate. This is classic opportunity for the international governments to understand Tamils desperate needs and take an action.

  • 3
    0

    I did know Honduran Woman in Montreal. She lived on the same building,where I lived for about four years. She had an opportunity to join a church Mission to travel to Montreal. She was using her little French to help that Mission. Without any determination, when friends induced, she placed a claim and got accepted. That time Hondura – Nicaragua refugees had easy processes. She asked her husband to come with her Children. His simple reply was he was not a French or English speaker. Other than farming, he didn’t know any trade. He was not going to go a metropolitan town like Montreal. She lived alone with Church’s support for few years, torn apart by family thoughts. After pleading to husband for years, when she was leaving the building, she said, her new boyfriend wanted her to move with him to help on his new venture. She blamed her Church for having spoiled her life by let her to create a situation that she could not go back to Hondura. But, then why the Tamils only are risking this much? Unless IC is willing to investigate these desperate situations and work for a solution to Tamils, it is bound to deteriorate more but not to get even an inch better.

  • 2
    0

    Photo after photo were released by Army trophy collectors of rebel girls were being transported to sacrifices. The odyssey of 450,000 IDCs from Kilinochchi to Mullivaaikkaal was witnessed by UN employees. From that months long journey 150,000 are missing. ICRC had passed the Makeshift hospitals coordinates to army to shell. Koolukkum Paadi Kanchchikkum Paadi Jehan PhD is providing an idea that government should have blamed refugees to have inflicted the wounds themselves. These crooks have not explained Balachandran’s Photos or Isai Prira’s appearances with in many places as prisoner of army.
    We don’t know whether chicken going to roost or the tree going grow as jungle.
    It is about 1.5 Million, that is about between 1/3 and ½ of the community has left the country. So many North-East Kings and Queens had become Aandees(baggers) before decide to leave their land of birth. Even the non-Refuges were plug out their land as shipping cost, forcefully put on the wreck boats and let to float on the sea by Lankawe Navy and Old Royals with the name of “foreign employment agencies”. They are hoping that many might have perished in the voyages of the non-MV SunSea ships in the high sea and would never come back to and ask their money from the $18 Billion.

  • 1
    0

    When Jagath’s teams was torturing and murdering Tamils in Vavuniya torture Chamber, they have had a guard at UNESCO to watch and report them to plan the needed cover-up. But more than a Million Tamils have been accepted by Western Democracies as conventional refugees and their dependents. This is a staggering number of acceptances. Their files are frozen under those governments authorities. But it cannot be forever. One day, one curiosity professor of one university will have his students dig them and have read it. Out of that Million if one in one thousand (1/1000) cases they manage to bring out, it is a thousand of torture and rape cases are going to come out. That day Jehan PhD will not be able to give an idea of to Jagath that the refugees might have inflicted the wounds.

  • 3
    1

    Not only the physical torture but the mental torture also should be taken into account. Scars of physical torture is visible to the eyes unlike the mental torture. Thousands and thousands of Tamils are mentally tortured by depriving their lands legitimately due to them. This is despite their “Sit Down” action for months and dying of mental agony.. The political prisoners are detained without trial for years perhaps after physical harm. Promises are made but never kept. Not only the government but also the TNA should be held responsible for false promises. Depriving of what is look forward to is a mental Torture.

  • 0
    0

    Dear Jehan Perera, and all Participants,
    It is obvious victimization and grievances are galore in the North and East. People are struggling and their suffering doesn’t need a litmus test with today’s digital media! What Jegan condensed in the last para of his article will not bother the majoritarian based polity of Sri Lanka. It is for this purpose all the successive Governments of Sri Lanka got rid of Tamils from the tri-forces and recruited and trained them for!. From the early 70s victimizing the Tamils is in use for winning elections in the South! Though there was a twist in policy in 2015 for killing two birds with one stone, one to save friends from international accusation and the other to get a momentary UN support. In reality is there any change in policy other than coming to power by victimizing the Tamils?. What has changed in the policy of the tri-forces recruited and trained for a bad purpose?

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