Human Rights Watch 2013 Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence

Human Rights Watch 2013 Sri Lanka

By Shenali Waduge

“‘We will teach you a lesson’: Sexual violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces” is a 140 page report published on 22 February 2013 giving 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse between 2006-2012 in official and secret detention centers throughout Sri Lanka

The 140 page report gives 3 accounts out of 75 cases through a 6 year period:

The first is of a 31year old Tamil woman picked up from her Colombo home by CID officers in November 2011. HRW says that the women had been taken to the 4th floor of CID office denied food/water and the following day photographed, fingerprinted and made to sign a blank sheet of paper. She had been asked to disclose the whereabouts of her husband who was abroad and he was accused of supporting the LTTE. She had been alleged beaten by objects, burned with a cigarette, slapped around and beaten with sand-filled pipe (thankfully they did not waterboard her!). After this description she goes on to being raped one night by 2 men in civilian clothes speaking Sinhala and unable to identify because it was dark.

A vague account which HRW needs to first prove that she was taken to the CID – it would be quite an embarrassment if the CID can prove that its log books do not have such a woman being interrogated? Moreover ICRC is given access to anyone being questioned by CID and so it is prudent to have ICRC confirm they knew of this woman being interrogated in November 2011. Moreover, why was this rape not featured in Geneva in March 2012 given that the “incident took place in November 2011” and newsworthy enough for HRW? Moreover, if the questioning was related to terrorism, she has to have been arrested by the TID (Terrorist investigation department) not the CID (Criminal investigation Department)

The next case is that of a 23year old male in August 2012 who was taken to a room with 4 men and tied to a chair and questioned for links to the LTTE. He is alleged to have been stripped and beaten with electric wires, burned with the cigarettes and suffocated with petrol-infused polythene bag and raped on 3 consecutive occasions and after the rapes he had confessed to links with the LTTE. There is no mention of not being able to see the men therefore HRW can forward a pencil sketch of the men who had raped this youth plus where he was taken and the general lists of answers that removes the vagueness to this description.

The third case given is another youth, who surrendered before the security forces in May 2009 and two officials who held his arms back and another officer who held his penis and inserted metal rods inside and metal balls (as a female I cannot even imagine such but wonder who held his 2 legs) thankfully there is a medical report but that must correspond with evidence how a male who surrendered to the army and who should be one of the 11,770 former combatants under the rehabilitation program of the army should land up overseas. Moreover, with his case being far more dramatic than the 1st rape of the lady at the CID, why did this rape not make headlines in Geneva 2012 and moreover why did he not feature (even with a blurred face) in the Channel 4 films? Certainly odd.

Of the 75 cases HRW plan to dramatically release naturally closer to the Geneva 2013 sessions, these 3 cases deserve the benefit of doubt provided that HRW can corroborate each version with proof and ICRC confirmation which ties with the Governments/Armed Forces and police records – allegations meant to embarrass every time an international forum or meeting comes up is just bad taste and now become quite boring for all of us to read given that we know the entire drill – therefore expect annual UN sessions especially the UNHRC sessions to have trailer documentaries, films, panel reports, foreign delegations all leading to another Resolution and doing their best to get the country’s leaders to compromise the country thinking that would save them from war crime trials!

According to the HRW the GOSL dismisses the allegations as “fake” and “pro-LTTE propaganda”. Though there is enough evidence to establish that LTTE is a master of lies and fabrications, let us give the benefit of doubt and look at the cases of reports logged by the police.

When Sri Lanka’s armed forces saved 297,000 Tamil civilians braving LTTE fire and loosing 5000 Government troops in the process, HRW’s “untold number of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody” includes just 75 cases. Are these 75 cases the supposed to be “widespread rape” that has taken place in Sri Lanka?

Widespread rape is what took place in Rwanda in 1994 when upto 250,000 or more women were raped in 3 months, or the UN agency estimates of more than 60,000 women raped in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), or the more than 40,000 raped in Liberia (1989-2003), or the 60,000 women raped in former Yugoslavia (1992-1995) and the 200,000 raped in the Congo.

Sri Lanka’s “alleged” 75 cases yet to be even proved and only accounts without verification are classified as “widespread” when approximately 295,000 civilians have not accused any soldier of rape/sexual offence nor have any of the 11,770 former combatants most of whom are now reintegrated into society. HRW must understand why some of these allegations are getting more and more difficult to believe. Creating dramas and using media to the maximum is anyone’s prerogative but the people of Sri Lanka are a lot wiser and know that our forces carried out a humanitarian rescue cum military operation. If it provides employment and funds all these reports can continue to come!

During the World War 2 all sides of the conflict were accused of mass rapes but neither of the 2 courts set up by the victorious allied countries to prosecute suspected war crimes in Tokyo and Nuremberg recognized crime of sexual violence. Rape was included in 1993 during the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and ICTY became the 1st international court to accuse a person guilty of rape as a crime against humanity – that was 60,000 cases of rape!

Leaving aside these unknown, unverified and vague accounts coming forth by international bodies like HRW against Sri Lanka – there are internal records as well.

The post and pre-conflict scenario cannot ignore the fact that the pre-conflict details must take into account that the LTTE was a terrorist organization. In 2004, 29 January, the HRW published a report on LTTE’s use of child combatants titled “Living in Fear – Child Soldiers and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka” – quoting from its report “Throughout 2003 thousands of children were deployed as combatants, to commit abuses against civilians, as sex slaves, forced laborer’s, messengers, informants and servants in continuing and newly erupting conflicts. Children were usually used to perform multiple roles, and girls in particular often acted as combatants as well as being sexually exploited” (please note emphasis on sexually exploited – this is HRW referring to LTTE not GOSL forces).

Accusing fingers pointed at Sri Lanka must take into account that the LTTE held areas were out of bounds for GOSL and Sri Lankan troops. It was from these areas that Tamil children were forcibly taken (former UN officer Benjamin Dix despite 22months in the UN in Sri Lanka) reveals in a presentation that the schools were empty because the children were forcibly taken away and anyone between 17-40 would also be included as well. What must also not be forgotten is that the bulk if not all these children and women came from the Mullaitivu/Kilinochchi or Eastern areas where low-caste Tamils were easy prey? The 11770 former LTTE combatants would confirm this. These 2 districts had zero electricity coverage because the LTTE had blown up the grids preferring to keep the people in the dark – yes, blind to realizing the LTTE were nothing but killers and extortionists.

It is pointless giving figures recorded during LTTE rule because an organization that thrives with the gun is unlikely to be divulging any of its crimes in public and they have plenty of “friends” to whitewash those crimes internationally and locally. However, what the Government can prove is that between 2009.05.19 to 2011.12.31 out of a total of 210 cases of rape and sexual offence only 20 cases have been committed by Sri Lanka armed forces including police and CDS with cases against these members already in process and under investigation. However, as against this between the same period of survey 242 rape and sexual offences have taken place most of which have committed by close relatives (28), neighbors(69), as a result of intimate affairs (28) and others (100). Sexual violence has increased in the post-conflict period but the perpetrators are not the armed forces inspite of the big noise made of their military presence in the North. The rapes and sexual violence recorded on Tamils have been by their very own and the former GA Mrs. Sukumar will confirm that most of the sexual violence is now taking place because of fathers/uncles raping the young ones. Let’s not create different versions diverting the truth!

Credibility is of utmost importance for any organization espousing to be a watchdog for abuses taking place round the globe. Yet, the ugly reality is that organizations that start off with a noble vision soon realize that to cover the stories taking place round the world they need people, they need offices, they need contacts, they need to do propaganda and for all this they need funds and when they start taking money from the very sources that contribute to the world’s ills then they lose their shine and their credibility and once that credibility is compromised people stop listening to them and so they end up working for their supper depending on the very people who they ideally should be warning the world about.

Thus, when Amnesty took 50,000 Canadian dollars from a pro-LTTE group, the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), they lost credibility. When UK MPs David Miliband (former foreign secretary), Keith Vaz, Virendra Sharma, Simon Hughes, Siobhain McDonagh and a long list of other British MPs speak on behalf of the LTTE and on top of LTTE stages even though LTTE is banned in their nation – in our eyes they are a laughing stock. When people like US congressman Danny Davis’s trip to Sri Lanka in 2005 is funded by LTTE, Congressman Brad Sherman, Rush Holt, David Price and even Hillary takes and returns funds given by pro-LTTE groups – do they have integrity? When Canadian MPs Bob Rae, Jason Kenney, Paul Martin are pro-LTTE speakers we can but wonder where Canada is heading. When pro-LTTE MPs like Australian John Murphy, Senator Lee Rhiannon whose website is full of anti-Sri Lankan and pro-separatist propaganda even bordering on pro-Tamil Tiger (LTTE), misinformed the House and the Australian public runs contrary to what Julie Bishop MP and Scott Morrison MP – we know an international publicity campaign to smear Sri Lanka is taking place.

Many others holding important offices have spoken on behalf of LTTE a banned terrorist organization over the years and still continue to do so which naturally makes any to wonder what all these games are about.

As a citizen and what probably the rest of the citizens all feel is that Sri Lanka’s terrorism is now no more. The terrorists who surrendered are now rehabilitated, reintegrated and doing something with their lives other than killing. The people that lived in fear throughout the island especially the Tamil people who were forced to stay with the LTTE and from amongst whom the LTTE grabbed children, women and men to turn into killers can now get on with their lives, schools now have children, teachers have more than chairs to teach, roads that had seen no improvement since the 1980s are now a pleasure to travel in, neglected fertile lands are now lush with vegetation, youth are now going to movies, cycling and hanging out together – anyone visiting the North sees any of the depressing pictures being portrayed just because money speaks.

But we do agree on one thing and that is accountability – the tiger ground force is no more but its sophisticated tail still remains overseas and wagging. The GOSL needs to stop being the nice guy and start a thorough investigation pending legal action on why the LTTE started how it came to make USD300million profit, who contributed to it – here’s where things get complicated because it would include locals, international players including UN, INGOs, NGOs, foreign governments and a host of others. But we now need their names out in the open and links to the LTTE to emerge officially for that’s what we call accountability and from where real reconciliation starts – with an apology to Sri Lanka.

As for the local LTTE supporters – The Government must immediately implement the 6th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution and take punitive action against all according to the law of the country and frame charges for the remaining LTTE combatants for their crimes as well.