Young Tamil men and women are regularly taken in mysterious white vans, tortured, raped and sometime killed, while they are in custody. Tamils are forced out of their homes and lands and made to live in open fields and in barbed wired camps. Food and medicine are regularly denied to Tamils and they are a let to die of starvation and diseases.
The Commission for Missing Persons organised by the Sri Lankan government is more interested in livestock than people, said Northern Provincial Councillor Thurairasa Ravikaran.
The commission has so far received more than 19,000 complaints of involuntary disappearance and has interviewed almost 1,300 affected families. It has had six sittings in the North Eastern Tamil-speaking districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Mullaitivu. It is now conducting four sittings in Kilinochchi district.
He elaborated stating, “When the people come to complain about who they have lost, they ask them, ‘do you have chickens? Do you want goats? The Commission has become a joke”.
The Councillor was referring to the standard question asked by the Commissioner: “What is your livelihood? Have you been given any goats or chicken?” at the end of every hearing. He added, the Commission was not investigating missing persons but ‘forced disappearances’.
“Most people disappeared on their way from Mullivaikal to Army controlled areas and many disappeared, while crossing from Nandikadal to Vattuvahal.
They all surrendered to the Army and the government. And if those who have surrendered disappeared, who is to be held accountable?” asked Ravikaran.
When Ravikaran was asked to explain why people continued to attend Commission sittings despite such low confidence levels in the system, he said, “These people come in desperation.
They are desperate to find out anything they can about their loved ones and they have nowhere else to go.”
Highlighting one particular incident he had witnessed at the Mullaitivu sessions, he recalled, “When a woman was asked where her husband had disappeared to, she told the Commissioner, he did not disappear, I handed him over to you”. The manner in which cases are being heard have also been called into question and the Councillor accused the Commission of hearing cases which were favourable to the government while leaving out others.
The Presidential Commission on Disappearances and War Crimes (DWC) has asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa to establish an Investigating Team to help it pursue cases of alleged involuntary disappearance in the country. Talking to a group of news persons at a sitting of the commission in Mulangavil in North West Sri Lanka on Sunday, the panel chairman, Justice Maxwell Paranagama, said that the charge that persons had disappeared after they had surrendered to the army or after crossing army-held territory, needs to be investigated by a competent agency. “I have put in a request for such a team to the President, but have not got a response so far,” Paranagama said.
It is said that the witnesses to UN who discloses the killing of more than 40,000 Tamil Civilians by the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009 and the killing of Tamil Leaders who surrendered with White Flags after UN negotiated the ‘White Flage surrender’ are to be punished under the Terrorism Prevention Act and the Official Secrets Act.
It is also said that People who expose the raping of Tamil girls by the Army as seen of Tamil TV News reader Isaipriya to the UN team will be punished. It is believed that if these witnesses are in Sri Lanka they will be disappear or be kidnapped and killed by government sponsored para military.
Rape is systematic and widespread against both men and women. Horrific crimes are being committed with total impunity by police and armed forces.
The evidence reveals a chilling pattern — not opportunistic individual soldiers but a sanctioned coordinated program with different wings of Security forces cooperating in secret camps for torture and sexual violence.
On Friday, June 6, I met with two Tamil survivors of torture and rape in Sri Lanka — a man and a woman. I felt sickened after listening to their horrific testimonies of unlawful detention, torture, sexual crimes and repeated rape — the young man was subjected to similar torture and rape as the woman. I have withheld their names and certain details in the accounts below, in order to protect them and their families from reprisals. They are in fear for their lives.
The young woman told me of being dragged from her home in front of her mother by five men in civilian dress, blindfolded and taken in a white van to a place where men and women were screaming and crying behind the walls. She was put in a room with no window, water, toilet, bucket or sink. Two men in cargo pants interrogated her. She was crying so much that she couldn’t answer. They tore her dress off as she cried and shouted and slapped them. They burned her with cigarettes on the face and breasts. Then they both raped her. That night she lay on the cement floor, bleeding from the rapes. She was not given food or drink and she didn’t sleep. She says she felt very ashamed, that perhaps it would have been better if they had killed her. Through the walls other male and female voices were screaming.
Over the next nine days she was raped repeatedly. She believes it was by many different men. Sometimes there were as many as four at once. She was burned on the face, breasts, thighs, arms, buttocks and back and beaten with a plastic pipe, repeatedly ducked in a barrel of water.
After the ninth day, men came every other day rape her, one at a time. During the time she was held prisoner she never saw a lawyer or a judge.
After 16 days, she was finally freed by a bribe from a family member, who arranged for her to board a flight to London. She was taken into custody on arrival when she could not produce a passport. She told me that the first time she met with the Home Office, she couldn’t speak. She is not allowed to work in the UK. She reports to the Home Office once a month. She says she can’t sleep. She’s always anxious. She’s still in pain from her injuries from the rapes and beatings. She feels that the UK is the only place that can protect her. If she is sent back, she says, they won’t leave her alive this time. She hopes that what happened to her will not happen to anyone else.
The young man was crying and trembled as he spoke to me. He was frightened, emotionally fragile.
He was at home with his mother and sister when three large men, two in plain clothes and one in a green army uniform, seized him from the yard as his mother and sister screamed. They bundled him into an unmarked white van. He had no shoes. In the van, they beat him until he passed out.
He woke in a small cell with no windows. Over the next five months, he was subjected to torture, including having his genitals squeezed until he passed out. He was beaten, sprayed with a high pressure hose, threatened with cigarettes, urinated on, spat on, and blindfolded. He was fed but not much, and lost a lot of weight.
He was finally released and ordered to report to the police station every two weeks. He had injuries all over his body — pain in his genitals, back, knees. He returned home but he says he didn’t want to do anything, or go anywhere. He was very frightened all the time.
When he routinely reported to the police station again two months later, he was handcuffed and again bundled into a vehicle. He was taken to another place with concrete bunkers and metal sheds, taken into a concrete room and bound to a chair.
He was interrogated. He was kicked with boots, beaten, threatened with cigarettes. He remained in detention for eight months. Sometimes he saw other detainees in the yard but no one spoke. This time the interrogations were different.
He was often stripped and held down while one man squeezed his testicles. On one occasion, a man licked him up and down with his tongue.
He was raped more than three times, including with metal objects, by between three and five men at a time. “They were always wearing army uniform,” he said. He remembers screaming and screaming. During the time he was held prisoner, he never saw a lawyer or a judge.
His family also bribed his way out, and they kept the fact that he had a passport quiet. He was again ordered to report to the police station every two weeks but instead obtained a student visa and came to the UK, where he was detained at Gatwick for two months. He has applied for asylum. It has not been granted.
He was a student, and he says that he thinks if he could study again, it would be better, and that he could move on. He lives with his family, but he has not told them what happened to him. His deportation hearing is coming up at the end of the month. I will be accompanying him to the hearing.
I have met survivors of sexual violence from all over the world. I have never in my experience as a human rights campaigner encountered so much evidence of the rape of men as in Sri Lanka.
Last Friday was a beautiful sunny day in London but it seemed very dark in my living room where I sat with those two survivors. I felt sick, revolted as I listened to the atrocities they had endured. Their suffering was palpable. It was a trauma to recount their experiences, but both said it was a relief to speak of it. There is a stigma surrounding rape and the survivors feel great shame, as of course the perpetrators intended they should.
Cigarette burns and branding are used as a way of ensuring that everyone knows the victims have been raped. Frances Harrison, the author of Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War, says most survivors never confide in husbands, mothers, sisters, family. These rapes inflict tortures of isolation and suffering years after they are over. She says it’s common for the Sri Lankan government to take reprisals against family of those who have fled to the UK. Victims therefore fear to phone their families in Sri Lanka. They are very alone.
The Sri Lankan Government as warned that it will confiscate property of people or parties giving informations to UN as disclosing the killing of the 40000Tamil Civilians in May 2009 by the Army is seen as betraying the country.
Wings of Security forces in secret camps for torture and sexual violence on Tamil Girls – Time To Act on Sri Lanka
. There is a price still on the heads of human rights activists Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan.