| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(June13, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) As British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood star and UN goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie discuss sexual violence during conflict in London, Sri Lankan Government is in a denial mode. Its stance that it will not co-operate since participating would mean the government is guilty of permitting sexual violence as a tool in the war it claims is war against terror.
The stance taken by the government that it will neither allow UNHRC to investigate war crimes nor will it provide visas for its delegation is committing hara-kiri thereby giving ammo for UNHRC to charge Sri Lanka of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Hague emphasised that SL rape victims claiming asylum in the UK would be re-examined and urged the Home Office to look into their cases with an open mind and not rely on country reports.
What changes this summit would bring to rape victims across the world and how rape could be avoided be it during internecine warfare or conflicts arising from outside interventions as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and African states remain to be seen.
I Reproduce here an article I wrote in 2011.
(March 24, Oxford, Sri Lanka Guardian) I am in a dark room. Tall black-trunked palmyrah trees are chasing me; falling over me and I am running. Every night this is my recurring dream. I wake up frightened and then I cry about what happened to me in that cell.
The girl who was examined by a psychiatrist in Oxford yesterday was opening up for the first time in two and a half years about her horrid experience of being dragged out and raped almost every night for 18 months by the government soldiers along with four other girls.
I have attended asylum hearings for the last 10 years and I have seen play-acting to obtain refugee status and I have heard enough lies. But when I witnessed the trauma she underwent first-hand as she related her experience it made me furious and made me wonder how the government or General Fonseka along with the mainstream media in Colombo dare to say no civilians were harmed during the last throes of the war.
She also bore a female baby who is now two and a half years old as a result of this inhumane and barbaric act of depraved soldiers who went on a rampage raping Tamil girls in Wanni.
I work for no NGOs such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International and I do not profit from interpreting for asylum-seekers who cannot speak English and who are unable to obtain Legal Aid.
Giving the benefit of a doubt let us forget Wikileaks and ignore Channel 4 videos. Yesterday’s experience brought me flashbacks of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy the 18 year old schoolgirl raped and killed by 11 soldiers in the North in June 1996 at a checkpoint as she was returning from sitting her A/L exam along with her mother (also raped). Her brother and a neighbour who went in search of her were also murdered by the soldiers.
The late Kumar Ponnambalam and I were the first to see the putrified and hacked bodies brought to Colombo in September 1996at the Judicial Medical Officer’s place and we were not allowed photographs. The stench was unbearable and the flesh peeled like boiled chicken meat from the tarpaulin which was used to tie the hacked body pieces. There were blue nylon ropes tied round each neck. The bodies were then ordered to be buried at government expense so as not to draw public outrage.
It is to the credit of President Kumaratunga, being a woman, who admitted there should be a trial-at –bar under pressure from Amnesty International and other media coverage and as a result the soldiers were charged with manslaughter and rape and sentenced. But sadly the government which took over managed to release the suspects on bail and subsequently freed them.
The girl mentioned earlier was born with low IQ and I saw the scars of burns with beedi butts on her private parts. She fainted right in front of me and injured her knee. She fell prostate at the feet of the psychiatrist and pleaded with her not to let her go out of even the consulting room since she was scared that she would be raped outside.
She could not bear to be touched by the female psychiatrist and she was reluctant even to speak to me saying very often, “You won’t tell my sister, will you?”
She had a screaming fit when she saw the hospital porter in uniform and ran for her life. I need not go on about what went on during the two hours of examination. The wounds have healed. The child is happy and healthy. Thank God, said the psychiatrist that it is a female child. Otherwise the mother would have been unable to bond if it had been a boy, remembering her rapists.
Should we bide time and suffer in silence like the Korean women did for nigh on 60 years for Japan to admit and apologise.
The present LLRC is an eye-wash and UN does not seem to be taking war crimes seriously. War crimes must be investigated. Otherwise we have failed as humankind.
The rapes which occurred are no figments of imagination. They are real and despite the government’s denial that asylum seekers use rape to gain refugee status does not carry much weight. There are tomes of evidence out there with C$ videos and NGO and aid workers testimonies Tamil women were systemically raped while being detained in camps by Sri Lankan government soldiers.
Former army commander Sarath Fonseka is credited with preying on women soldiers under his command and this was given wide publicity. He may have been proved to have vanquished the LTTE and his desire to become a possible presidential candidate brings into question his credentials to lead a country which is already reeling under the corrupt Rajapaksa regime with its nepotism, protecting thug politicians who flout every law of the land, undermining the judiciary and allowing foreigners to operate casinos under the pretext of tourism which belies the very Buddhist principles it professes to uphold.
Fonseka should be held accountable to his soldiers’ conduct in raping women as they were surrendering and kept in detention camps in 2009 and until their release years later.
The sexual harassment of a promising athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe by the current Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake would not have been tolerated in any decent democracy. He was Sports Minister then and the ageing and obese minister was hankering after a nubile athlete and held her to ransom.
In a biography of Elizabeth Taylor written by her personal assistant titled ‘Who’s afraid of Elizabeth Taylor’, she recounts how Taylor on her honeymoon after the wedding to Conrad Hilton, heir to Hilton Hotel chain fortune, had already begun beating her up and while helping her change into dresses for public display aboard a luxury cruise liner, she saw red wheals on her back. Despite her beauty and popularity Taylor never publicly disclosed she was subjected to violence. Their marriage ended within a year of her wedding.
From Princess Diana to Hillary Clinton and Nigella Dawson celebrity TV chef and daughter of former UKexchequer Nigel Lawson and married to art collector millionaire Saatchi, the world expected them to be happy and contented until Bill Clinton was exposed as not so squeaky clean when he had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and others in motels, Saatchi assaulting Nigella in public and Diana discovering even while she was engaged to Prince Charles he was making lewd phone calls to Camilla wanting to be her tampon.
If high profile women such as these could become victims of marital infidelity and their spouses just get a rap on the knuckles what chances do illiterate subservient women in Third world countries have? Boys will be boys should not be touted for men ill-treating their women.
Rape in war or in a domestic environment should be taken as heinous crimes against women and the perpetrators dealt with seriously. No woman however loose her morals are should be subjected to sexual violence.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)