Sri Lankan security forces are using rape and other forms of sexual violence to torture suspected supporters and members of the LTTE, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.
London-based HRW has documented 75 cases of both men and women, including British residents and citizens who travelled to Sri Lanka, being targeted by the military and police.
In the 141-page report – titled “We Will Teach You a Lesson: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces” – the campaign group said that while widespread rape occurred during the Island’s 30-year ethnic conflict, politically motivated sexual violence continues to this day, four years after the end of the war.
In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, men and women reported being raped, burned with cigarettes and beaten on multiple days, often by several people, with the army, police, and pro-government paramilitary groups frequently participating.
“The Sri Lankan security forces have committed untold numbers of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“These are not just wartime atrocities but continue to the present, putting every Tamil man and woman arrested for suspected LTTE involvement at serious risk.”
Most of the victims were interviewed by HRW outside Sri Lanka and their accounts “corroborated through medical and legal reports”.
Because Human Rights Watch was not able to openly conduct research in Sri Lanka, it said the cases in its report most likely represent only a tiny fraction of custodial rape in political cases.
Many of victims currently live as asylum seekers in Britain and elsewhere.
According to the report, the abuse generally stopped after detainees were forced to sign a confession.
They were subsequently allowed to escape after paying a bribe, the report said.
“We found that rape was used to secure some sort of confession, but also as a political tool to punish people,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the rights group’s South Asia director, told a news conference in New Delhi.
“These were people who had some connection with the Tigers … who were forced to sign confessions, and only then would the rapes stop.”
Ganguly said sexual abuse was only one form of torture that the people suffered: “They were also severely tortured, burnt by cigarettes and hung upside down.”
The Sri Lankan government has denied the allegations, with military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya saying they “lack credibility”.
“If there are proper complaints with the relevant authorities, the army is ready to investigate them,” he said.
He said security forces rescued 300,000 civilians during the war and have resettled them, while another 12,000 ex-rebel combatants have been rehabilitated.
“None of these persons have come with a complaint of this nature. This is another lie the Human Rights Watch has released,” he said.
The Deputy Ambassador at the Sri Lankan mission in London told The UKAsian, he had not seen the report yet, but was not surprised that “these are the kinds of things that Human Rights Watch would be doing”.
“Anybody can make allegations, particularly if these people are seeking refuge abroad”, said Mr Neville de Silva.
“Since the end of the war in 2009, the UK has deported numerous failed Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka. We have information that some of them have returned, either leaving Sri Lanka illegally or entering the UK illegally.”
“These kinds of people tend to make increasingly horrendous accusations to win the right to remain in this country”, Mr Silva added.
“This is also a way of forcing other nations to put pressure on Sri Lanka”, he said.
The testimonies of the 41 women, 31 men and 3 boys comes just days ahead of a US-backed United Nations Human Rights Council resolution criticizing Sri Lanka’s rights record.
The resolution – if ratified – could pave the way for an independent UN inquiry into rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
– Viji Alles