In a shocking exposure based on factual accounts of the victims, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday said that the Sri Lankan Security Force personnel have used and continue to use ‘rape’ as a tool against Tamil men and women while in their protective custody.
Claiming that such sexual abuses were not just the action by a rogue solider, but “systematic and widespread”, the US-based rights watchdog said “it may have been part of a broader government effort to instil terror in the Tamil community to discourage involvement with the LTTE”.
Releasing a damning 140-page report in London on the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the HRW said that its report focusing “on rape and other sexual violence committed by members of the Sri Lankan security forces from 2006-2012 against women and men in state custody” has documented 75 cases of rape – 31 of men, 41 of women, and 3 of boys under age 18.
In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, men and women reported being raped on multiple days, often by several people, with the army, police, and pro-government paramilitary groups frequently participating.
Systematic and widespread
According to the report, the use of sexual violence was “not just a local occurrence or the action of rogue security force personnel, but a practice that was known or that should have been known by senior officials” with many victims knowing well the security establishment to which one or more of the perpetrators belonged to.
“The relatively large number of sexual abuse cases we were able to document among a group of former detainees using both similar methods and occurring in a number of locations across the country strongly suggests that these abuses were widespread and systematic during the final years of the conflict and in the years since. Eight of the cases of rape that Human Rights Watch documented occurred in 2012, and new cases continue to be reported,” the HRW said.
The HRW has compiled this report based on in-depth interviews conducted over a 12-month period with former detainees now living in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia as the incumbent Rajapaksa regime has repeatedly refused permission to rights organisation to enter the country and carry out independent investigations.
A number of cases involved individuals who were returning to Sri Lanka from abroad either because they had been deported or had returned.
Claiming that the victims in the report were able to identify camps and detention sites where the abuse occurred, the HRW said that soldiers, police, and members belonging to specialized units like the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) were all involved in this organised brutal campaign.
Often the perpetrators have came from more than one branch of the security forces, and included members of the Sri Lankan army, police, and pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups.
Not so secret locations
“Cases involving Tamils in custody were reported not just in battleground areas of northern Sri Lanka, such as Vavuniya, the Vanni region, and the Jaffna peninsula, but in Boosa and Kalutara prisons in western Sri Lanka, and in Trincomalee police station in the east”.
“And former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were abused at various official as well as secret detention sites in and around the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, including Welikada prison, the fourth floor of the CID headquarters and the sixth floor of TID headquarters, and at Kotahena, Dehiwela, and Wellawatta police stations. In short, many branches of the security forces, operating throughout the country, often in official places of detention, were involved in the sexual abuse of detainees,” the HRW report said.
Rape accompanied by sexual torture
Quoting male and female former detainees, it said that they were “forced to strip, their genitals or breasts groped, and they were verbally abused and mocked” prior to being raped.
It said that many of the medical reports examined by HRW show evidence of “sexual violence such as bites on the buttocks and breasts, and cigarette burns on sensitive areas like inner thighs and breasts”.
“Two men interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that they had a sharp needle inserted in their penis. In one case, this was used to insert small metal balls into their urethra by army personnel; the metal balls were later surgically removed by doctors abroad after the victim complained of discomfort and pain,” the report said.
Claiming that the names of all victims quoted in the report were withheld in order to protect their privacy and avoid potential retaliation by the Sri Lankan authorities against them or their relatives, the HRW said that in all of the cases documented in its report, “the acts of rape and sexual violence were accompanied by other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by state security forces”.
“In the cases we investigated, most of the detainees were interrogated by Sinhala-speaking security officials with Tamil interpreters. Most were forced to sign a confession in Sinhala following their abuse, though the torture often continued after they signed confessions. Detainees were normally not released but rather allowed to ‘escape’ after a relative paid a bribe,” it said, adding that detaining the individuals without access to judges, defense lawyers, relatives, or doctors – violated fundamental due process rights.
Photo courtesy: HRW