( October 17, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Four years after the end of the armed conflict, Tamil and Muslim women in the north and east of Sri Lanka are increasingly marginalized and face chronic insecurity, says an international rights organisation in a new report.
Thousands of women have lost husbands and other family members, while human rights abuses and violations ranging from sexual violence to land grabbing continue, according to Minority Rights Group International's (MRG) report, Living with insecurity: Marginalization and sexual violence against women in north and east Sri Lanka.
The women interviewed by MRG said there has been a significant increase in sexual assaults and other rights abuses, due in large part to the heavy militarization of the area. Most were afraid to report cases to the authorities. Many still have no idea where the male members of their families are due to widespread enforced disappearances, whilst some say that their husbands remain in state detention without being charged.
There are an estimated 89,000 war widows in the former conflict areas, with around 40, 000 female-headed households. Despite the government's official rhetoric of national reconciliation, many are effectively prevented from mourning their dead as death certificates have not been issued to those who have lost their husbands. The government continues to downplay the numbers of people killed in the last stages of the fighting.
The Sri Lankan government claims advances in peace and development in these areas, but the extensive field research for this report shows that women are not benefiting from the peace dividend, are marginalized from development programmes, and struggle to access basic livelihoods to support their families.
‘The government is actively contributing to the insecurity of minority women through the militarization of the north and east and by maintaining a climate of impunity where human rights violations continue,' says Farah Mihlar, MRG's South Asia expert. ‘Tamil and Muslim women are especially concerned for their safety and freedom, and yet have little course for redress since they fear reporting attacks against them to the authorities,' she adds.
The report is released ahead of the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November. Sri Lanka is then due to assume Chairmanship of the Commonwealth for the next two years.
Two United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions, the latest findings of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights following her recent visit to Sri Lanka, as well as numerous reports by international and national organizations, point to the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
The UN and international human rights groups have repeatedly stated that there is also credible evidence that the Sri Lankan government violated human rights and international humanitarian law in the last stages of the conflict, and are demanding an independent investigation of the events.
MRG's report also adds credence to the claims that, despite ending the armed conflict, the government continues to violate its international human rights obligations.
Given the severity of its rights record, Sri Lanka's hosting of CHOGM and forthcoming appointment to the Chairmanship of the Commonwealth, presents a serious challenge to the Commonwealth's commitment to supporting human rights and democratic values, says MRG.
‘It is clear that Sri Lanka has failed and, as this report shows, continues to fail in its duty to protect the human rights of its Tamil and Muslim minorities. At the very least, Heads of State should show their commitment to the basic values of the Commonwealth by not attending the meeting,' says Chris Chapman, MRG's Head of Conflict Prevention.
Women's activists continue to advocate, often at great personal risk, for truth, justice, accountability and an end to the climate of impunity that enables ongoing violations. The report claims that until a clear protection framework is developed for minority women and other marginalized groups, and past violations properly investigated, the prospects of a lasting peace and reconciliation process will remain elusive.
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