Demanding visible reforms
Sri Lankan authorities have been accused of allowing continuing human
rights abuses, including torture and illegal detention, exactly one year
after Maithripala Sirisena took power on a reforming ticket in a
surprise election win.
and impunity isssues still haunt Sri Lanka.
International campaigners say they have documented 27 individual
cases of serious human rights abuses occurring in the last 12 months.
Freedom from Torture, a UK-based organization offering medical aid to
survivors of torture, said it had been involved with eight cases. The
victim in each was from Sri Lanka's largely Hindu Tamil minority and the
alleged perpetrators were members of the country's intelligence services
or military, which are dominated by the largely Buddhist Sinhala
Sri Lanka suffered a crippling 26-year civil war pitting government
forces against violent Tamil separatists of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which ended in a series of bloody battles in 2009.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was president during the final years of the war,
was defeated after calling a snap poll.
On his election, Sirisena pledged widespread reform and
reconciliation between Sri Lankan communities. The veteran politician
specifically promised an end to abductions in his maiden speech.
Sonya Sceats, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Freedom from
Torture, said Sirisena's repeated recognition that reconciliation in his
nation required accountability for serious human rights abuses was a
"But having set a new tone, the president must match his rhetoric
with a clear blueprint for rooting out torture from Sri Lanka's security
sector and putting perpetrators on trial, no matter how powerful they
may be," she said.
The NGO says it has medical evidence of torture by the Sri Lankan
military and intelligence services since Sirisena came to power which,
it said, suggested that "an abusive 'deep state' is still terrorising
communities and impeding Sri Lanka's post-war revival."
Military authorities and the police have always denied any
wrongdoings and human rights abuses.
Two of the survivors referred to by Freedom from Torture identified a
well-known military camp in the northern town of Vavuniya as the site of
their detention and torture. Others reported abuse at a makeshift jungle
camp. Many have scars of branding with heated metal rods and have
reported sexual abuse, the NGO said.
A second group has also revealed new evidence suggesting ongoing
torture and sexual violence by the security forces and police, including
alleged abductions by unidentified men driving white vans as recently as
last month. These "disappearances" became notorious under the repressive
rule of Rajapaksa.
"Sadly, it's very much business as usual," said Yasmin Sooka, of the
International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).
The ITJP's report, based on the testimony of 20 survivors of torture
who are now outside Sri Lanka, also names the main military camp in
Vavuniya as a site of torture. One case was investigated by both groups.
Almost all the survivors interviewed by the ITJP were members of the
LTTE, though almost all were forcibly conscripted as foot soldiers.
Several were under 18 at the time of their recruitment into the
organisation and, having spent only weeks within it, did not declare
themselves to authorities as former combatants at the war's end. Several
were involved in political activities such as election campaigning as
volunteers or campaigning for the disappeared before their abduction.
Five of them are women.
Several described torture chambers equipped with cables, rods and
batons for beating victims, water barrels and a pulley system for
hoisting them upside down. There were repeated and detailed accounts of
severe sexual abuse of both male and female detainees. Many were accused
by their interrogators of wanting to restart the LTTE - destroyed as an
organization by the end of the war.
The ITJP said medical reports by court-recognized experts in scarring
corroborate accounts of injuries, while the cross-referencing of details
common to witness statements supported descriptions of individual
locations of alleged torture.
"Almost all the statements are taken by lawyers with deep expertise
and experience in assessing a survivor's credibility and if anything was
doubtful it would be excluded," said Frances Harrison, spokesperson for
Sirisena is already under pressure on human rights. In September, the
United Nations said it had found evidence strongly indicating that war
crimes were committed in Sri Lanka in the closing phases of its civil
war, and called for the establishment of a special "hybrid"
international court to investigate individuals responsible for the worst
Unveiling a 220-page, two-volume report in Geneva, Zeid Ra'ad
al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it described
horrific abuses including torture, executions, forced disappearances and
sexual abuse by security forces, as well as suicide attacks,
assassinations and recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE. The report
found that both sides "most likely" committed war crimes.
Pressure for an international investigation grew when it became clear
that domestic inquiries set up by the then government of Sri Lanka were
partisan and ineffectual.
The recommendations of a "lessons learned and reconciliation
committee" went largely unimplemented.
- Guardian uk