President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe claim that since they took over Government from the Rajapaksas in 2015, the situation in Sri Lanka has changed for the better.
A Report by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) released on 14 July 2017, “Unstopped 2016/17 Torture in Sri Lanka” has a different view.
I have not written this Report. I have only condensed a 89-page document to something that is shorter. Ifthere is a problem with what has been written, contact ITJP, not me.
I will only set out the ground realities that have not been dealt with in the ITJP report since it is of crucial importance.
A Military/Police area
The Tamil North and East of Sri Lanka are under the military and police (99% and 95% Sinhalese). who can do what they want to anyone with no accountability. This includes torture, rape, abduction, interrogation, ‘disappearances’ or anything else. It is a military/police area. With more than 200,000 Armed Forces in the area – it is highly militarised. The ratio of civilians to ‘Security Force’ personnel is about 5 to 1 – a situation that does not exist in any other country. The Sri Lankan government has not given a valid reason as to why such a high militarisation in an area where there is no longer an armed conflict. The legal system has almost collapsed so that it is an exercise in futility for victims of human rights violations to expect justice in courts. None of this has changed with the change in Government in 2015, nor is it likely to change anytime soon, if ever.
ITJP is administered by the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa under its director, transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP team of investigators and prosecutors
The ITJP team is made up of seven international investigators from a diverse range of countries, including former prosecutors and investigators from the Ad Hoc Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), lawyers who have worked for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Timor-Leste Commission, the United Nations, the Special Court of Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court who collectively have decades of experience in investigation of sexual violence and torture, and in many instances firsthand knowledge of investigations relating to Sri Lanka.
The Report is based on sworn testimony from 24 victims of torture who have fled abroad to Europe, mainly the UK. About 3-4 days were spent with every witness with a trusted interpreter in a safe place. The statements taken were translated and read back to the victim in Tamil before it was signed. Statements were also supported by medico-legal reports when possible, psychological reports and documents from ICRC, Migration reports, Courts, the Sri Lankan Human Rights Council,scar photographs and media reports where applicable.
I will quote a few sentences from the Foreword written by Yasmin Sooka.
“The conflict has not ended for many Tamils in Sri Lanka and is still being perpetrated through unlawful abductions, detention and torture. Witnesses describe being tortured and raped by the security forces, some as recently as 2017.
What is shocking is the high number of victims we now see who have been tortured not once but on multiple occasions – in one case as many as five times. Sadly, this is no longer out of the ordinary.
Even more disturbing is the number of torture victims whose very close family members have also been tortured on separate occasions. This has huge implications for any credible future rehabilitation and for individual recovery which requires family support. The revictimisation through the deliberate targeting of the grown-up children of former LTTE cadres, indicates a high level of paranoia and persecution that is utterly at odds with the Sri Lankan Government’s rhetoric of reconciliation. It will also deepen intergenerational trauma and foster new conflicts.
The suicide attempts were so frequent that we had to start a psychosocial trauma project in London to keep witnesses alive, restoring a sense of group identity and hope for their future. Their journey abroad is not about bettering their lives – it’s about staying alive. Even that is a struggle.
This report establishes that in 2016/17 both the military and police in Sri Lanka continue to abduct, unlawfully detain, torture and rape Tamils.
The violations remain systematic and officially sanctioned by command structures within the security forces. Victims describe senior officers coming into their torture chamber. A standard operating procedure continues, involving three security force teams – one abducting, one interrogating and another releasing for money. Once the victim has fled, their family remains under surveillance by the intelligence services in order to keep them quiet.
Corruption is rampant. All the victims are eventually released on payment of money by their families. Security officials actively solicit the ransoms when the families are slow to respond to the abduction.