The report, “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka, 2009 - 2014" has been produced by human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, the UK Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the International Truth & Justice Project, Sri Lanka.
It details appalling evidence showing that, five years after claiming victory in its 26-year territorial conflict with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists, Sri Lanka's military is still waging a campaign of persecution using abduction, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual violence.
Sworn statements along with medical and psychiatric examinations have been gathered from dozens of Tamil men and women who sought refuge in the UK after being subjected to abuses in Sri Lanka. Almost all incidents they described took place after the war, some of it as recently as February 2014.
Their credible accounts, documented by nine independent lawyers from Western and Asian countries, establish a prima facie case to answer for post-war crimes against humanity involving torture, rape and sexual violence by the Sri Lankan military.
They also give lie to the Sinhalese-majority government's claim it is seeking reconciliation with its Tamil former enemies. Instead they show it is using draconian anti-terror laws and so-called "rehabilitation camps" to hunt and torture anyone remotely connected to the losing side.
"The cases of torture, rape and sexual violence described in this report are just a small sample of those crimes likely to have been committed against Tamils," said Yasmin Sooka. "The international community must act now otherwise such atrocities will continue to define post-conflict Sri Lanka."
The report collected accounts from abuse survivors including several who were abducted after returning to Sri Lanka as failed asylum seekers. Many describe being bundled into notorious white vans used by security agents to spirit people away and terrorise the Tamil community.
They reported being blindfolded and thrown into darkened cells where they were repeatedly interrogated or subjected to torture and sexual attacks so extreme they were left bleeding.
One young mother told how she was abducted in a white van, beaten with electric cables and suffocated to the point of unconsciousness using a plastic bag containing petrol. Later she said she was sexually assaulted and, after passing out again, raped.
Another woman was subjected to forced vaginal and anal penetration, as well as being violated using a baton. She was forced to have oral sex simultaneously while being raped and endured seven gang rape sessions interspersed with severe beatings.
One male victim described being anally and orally raped by a captor. “He was very violent,” he said. “I was angry and would try to fight him. I begged him not to. He said that the Tamil people’s mouths were only good for oral sex.”
In most cases, these testimonies have only come to light because relatives bribed their way out of detention and off the island. Many more may not have been able to afford their freedom.
But those who escaped still bear the physical and psychological scars, as well as the risk of being stigmatised within their own community. Of the 40 people interviewed, 19 said they had attempted suicide after leaving Sri Lanka.
Responding to the report, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he found it "horrifying" that almost half of the witnesses had tried to kill themselves. "This indicates the Sri Lankan government has achieved its aim in destroying these souls, who are unlikely to regain happiness and peace in their lives," he said.
Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, Kirsty Brimelow QC, said:
"The lawyers themselves were often quite shaken at hearing the detail of the atrocities described to them. Sri Lanka needs to acknowledge the level of sexual violence happening in its country and it would be wrong for the international community to look the other way."
The report's authors say its evidence must urgently be referred to an International Criminal Court or an international tribunal. They call on the United Nations Secretary General to establish an international inquiry to investigate and prosecute violations by Sri Lankan security force members.
They also urge the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Rapporteur on Torture to arrange a visit to Sri Lanka and initiate a special inquiry into rape and sexual violence.
Furthermore, they call on the UN to suspend Sri Lankan police and military involvement in international peace-keeping operations pending an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse and recommend all nations and world bodies review their relationship with Sri Lanka.
“This report has immediate implications for asylum policy, donor funding and the international community as a whole,” added Yasmin Sooka. “Every witness who spoke to our investigators said they were recounting their ordeal in the hope of bringing an end to these crimes.”
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