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Sexual harassment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sri Lankan Missions overseas

In the case of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry and its Missions abroad, the culture of sexual harassment has a different outlook.

by Our Diplomatic Editor
( August 3, 2018, Colombo – London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Like many other places around the globe, sexual harassment against women, mainly at working place, has become a widespread phenomenon in Sri Lanka, today. The authorities have not yet been able to present a workable solution to this problem. Lack of trust in the legal system in the country, social stigma and negative publicity given to such incidents in the social and mainstream media often discourage victims resorting to legal action. More importantly, relative or absolute power of the perpetrators in the realm of political arena has also a reason for the victims to think twice before reporting such incidents to the relevant authorities. Therefore, very often the victims have been silently succumbing to their ordeal. There is also an inclination among the female employees, especially in the government sector, to accept the phenomenon of sexual harassment as a part of their working culture.

Defining sexual harassment
There seems to be no commonly accepted definition on sexual harassment. At the International level, at the 11th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, General Recommendation 19 on violence against women has been introduced. According to the article 18 of the recommendations, “sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour as physical contact and advances, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography and sexual demands, whether by words or actions. Such conduct can be humiliating and may constitute a health and safety problem; it is discriminatory when the woman has reasonable ground to believe that her objection would disadvantage her in connection with her employment, including recruitment or promotion, or when it creates a hostile working environment.” This article discusses issues on the premise of the above definition.
Culture of sexual harassment
In the case of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry and its Missions abroad, the culture of sexual harassment has a different outlook. This is because type of work, as well as incentives and other benefits available for the officers at the Foreign Ministry and Sri Lankan Missions abroad, have become decisive factors, which create an environment conducive for sex predators to engage in sexual harassment and the victims to either tolerate or oppose them.
Ultimate aim of anyone steps into the Foreign Ministry is to get a good posting to a foreign Mission as it would solve many issues including education and employment problems of children and spouses as well as financial difficulties. It also provides an opportunity to satiate the personal desire of living abroad comfortably. At this point, sex predators know that for the above gains most female officers and employees have a tendency to tolerate sexual harassments.
Specially, under the highly politicized administrative system prevailing in the country, appointments to Sri Lanka Missions overseas has become a political project. In this project, the most valuable currency has been the loyalty towards the political masters and their cronies. For female officers and employees, helping to fulfil the sexual demands of the important actors is a sure path way towards securing a posting. As such, beginning from the ministerial figures, secretaries, and senior and junior Foreign Service officers, as well as officials in the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s office, have been expecting sexual favours for granting postings to female officers and employees attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How sex predators are deliberately creating an environment at the ministry and Missions to trap female officers and employees.

Sex traps in Ministry
The other side of the story is how sex predators are deliberately creating an environment at the ministry and Missions to trap female officers and employees. In the Ministry, making the life of a female employee comfortable is the key to take her to bed. Grating certain favours such as short term foreign trips, scholarships, official vehicles to commute between home and office, best divisions in the ministry to work and supporting them to get a good posting are effective methods. The other way is the making life at the ministry miserable for female employees and officers. This tactic is employed s when sexual demands are refused. Such female officers often get unnecessary heavy load of work, verbal and physical harassments, humiliation in front of others, denial of leave, denial of vehicle facilities etc. When the pressure mounts, most of the female officers and employees give up. Of course, getting closer to a female officer or employee, display of love and care is another favourite trick employed by sex predators. Most of the female employees and officers, mainly unmarred ones, fall into this trap easily. There are many of such stories and even after two decades they are still unmarried and mistresses of some senior officers and politicians. On one occasion a female officer of the commerce department assaulted a Foreign Service Officer inside the ministry for not fulfilling the promise of marrying her after sleeping with her for many years. Unfortunately, no disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrator.
Sex traps at Missions
A Mission is a favourite and safe place for sex predators as the female officers and employees are highly vulnerable there. Undoubtedly, smoothness of their official life depends at the mercy of the Heads of Mission or senior Diplomatic officers. These sex predators have ample opportunities to force the female officers and employees for a sexual relationship when they confront with issues of maintaining daily life in an alien country. These opportunities become available when asking them to work after office hours and during visits to various parts of the country of accreditation and participate in late night events especially during VIP visits from Sri Lanka.
They often make the life of female officers and employees miserable when their first arrival to the new Missions by depriving vehicle facilities, not allowing other staff to assist them, creating issues when finding houses, scolding for late arrival to the office and blocking access to some facilities through the loyal servants of sex predators. When the female officers are experiencing these miseries, at the end sex predators gradually approach them to offer some sort of comfort. At this point, many get entrapped. When the Head of Mission is exerting pressure on the female officers some senior officers offer solace and get friendly with her.
Another kind of approach is wining her heart through voluntarily sharing the family issues, issues with the predator’s wife and also admiring her beauty. Some even directly express their desires towards her. One senior Ambassador in Italy had been crying over the phone in the night, begging love of a particular female officer. Some have been employed very harsh methods such as openly inviting to her using vulgar language, touching parts of her body while at work and even threatening to rape. On certain occasions, sex predators have been taking the female officers home while the predator’s family members were out and have allegedly raped them.

Another kind of approach is wining her heart through voluntarily sharing the family issues, issues with the predator’s wife and also admiring her beauty. Some even directly express their desires towards her. One senior Ambassador in Italy had been crying over the phone in the night, begging love of a particular female officer.

Other side of the story
Of course, the other side of the story is also very ugly. There are some female officers and employees who have been making use of the weaknesses of sex predators for their personal gains. They sleep with high ranking officials of the Ministry to secure some benefits including good postings, comfort while abroad, exercise undue power at the ministry and Missions, secure foreign trips, take revenge on fellow officers and prevent their rivals getting some benefits. For example, one female officer presently working at the ministry is virtually controlling every affair using the powers of her lover. There are typists and female clerical officers who have often been trapping the sex thirsty male officers to secure a good posting and continue to work in the Mission many years although the usual period of contract is three years. It is also revealed that eighty percent of the female clerical officers and typists have been able to use their bosses to secure long term visa and residence permits in the countries such as the USA, the UK, Australia, and Canada and EU states after they complete their period of contract. Their bosses can never say NO to them once they are fallen into the sex trap of these female employees. There is also infamous lady officer, who was able to ascend the career ladder rapidly after sleeping with three foreign ministers and senior officers since joining the Ministry. She enjoyed her benefits disregard of who is in-charge of the ministry and rule the country. Yet, she has entered the Foreign Service without sitting for any entrance examination. One female officer told the writer that as some have been offering sexual services to the politicians and officers in the ministry, they expect the same from others as well. As a result, they find it difficult to work and get fare treatments at the ministry and Missions.
Some famous cases of sexual harassment
The most famous case involving a Foreign Service officer trying to have sex with a female employee in a motor car was the famous mobile sex incident that echoed even in the parliament in 1980s. Tabling a petition of the victim, former Minister Anura Bandaranaike shouted “mobile sex mobile sex.” Yet, the then Foreign Minister did not take any sensible action against the culprit. On another occasion, for not agreeing to have sex with him, a senior Ambassador filed a false case in the CID against a female officer. This particular female officer revealed that on a number of occasions the culprit force her to have sex with him. Another famous incident was involving a political Ambassador of the previous regime. He openly invited a female typist to bed with him. She refused this indecent proposal and sent a written petition to the foreign Ministry against this culprit. However, no action was taken and the female typist was simply transferred to another Mission as the culprit was a son of a minister. Surprisingly, the same culprit has been appointed for a European Mission recently as an Ambassador under Yahapalana government. Two female clerical officers stated that during the SAARC summit in 2008 one Muslim senior officer of the ministry pressed her against the wall at a Star Hotel in Colombo and forcibly squeezed her breasts. She later took medicine to ease the pain. But she did not have guts to make a complaint. The other lady officer stated that one mid-level Foreign Service officer forced her on the floor while she was collecting files in an office room at a five-star hotel which was used as an operation room during the SAARC summit. In another incident a senior Foreign Service officer has complained against a female officer to the then Foreign Minister that a particular female officer was anti-government. It was revealed he made this false allegation because she did not come to a hotel with him. There are two famous senior Foreign Service officers in the ministry who have always been making vulgar remarks and verbal harassments towards female officers even at corridors of the ministry. One of them has a nickname- crocodile. A senior female officer stated that this crocodile slept with her on a number of times promising that he would marry her after divorcing his wife. This man has been reciting the same story to a number of other female officers as well. The other person, now an Ambassador in a Middle Eastern country, has been accused of sexually harassing two female officers appointed to his Mission. He is also famous in that country for forcibly having sex with runaway housemaids seeking shelter and the Mission. There are many cases of abusing of runaway maids by Foreign Service officers and others working in the Sri Lankan Missions in the Middle East. Unfortunately, none of these complaints has been properly investigated. Even some of these maids have been subjected to abortions as a result of the sexual intercourse with the embassy officials. When a particular officer was going to take up a position at the SAARC Secretariat, he was instrumental in transferring a female employee whom he wished to have an affair to his new office. Upon arrival, within a few days he had forcibly have sex with this lady.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo — Place of shame or a symbol of the country’s dignity and reputation with diplomatic norms and ethics
Stories of old guards
There are very famous sex stories in the Foreign Ministry involving the old generation Foreign Service officers. One occasion one of the all guards, a Tamil had an affair with the female labour working at the Ministry. He has even brought a house for her when she threatened to reveal the ordeal she underwent. This particular person had to kneel down before a Japanese woman working at the Mission when she screamed as this Ambassador was trying to touch her body without her consent. Another female employee working as a translator at the Sri Lankan Mission in Japan also resigned immediately when the big boss tried to sex forcibly with her on the couch of the office. These are only the tip of the iceberg. A British lady working at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London resigned over sexually remarks by the then High Commissioner.

A female employee working as a translator at the Sri Lankan Mission in Japan also resigned immediately when the big boss tried to sex forcibly with her on the couch of the office

Posting with lovers
It has also become a practice among the Foreign Service officials to take their favourite lady officers and employees with them when they are going on postings. This has created a lot of troubles in the Missions. This is because the lady officers in question have mostly been trying to use the power of their lovers at the working place. This has also resulted in creating administrative and other issues at certain Missions. A famous and senior officer in retirement but still in active service has taken his mistress to a number of Missions. During each tour of duty, this particular sex predator sent his mistress to Sri Lanka before his departure to Sri Lanka. At present over 10 cases of female employees serving in the Mission longer period with the support of their lovers without coming back to Sri Lanka despite their service agreement is for three years. These incidents are reported from Canada, USA, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, France and number of other countries. As a result, the officers waiting in Colombo for posting have not been able to leave the country until these “sex workers” returned.
Big posts for sex favours
Consequent to the sexual favours received; there had been a number of attempts to appoint some female Foreign Service officers to Heads of Mission posts disregarding their seniority. At present, one appoint has already been finalized and another one is in the offing. A former Foreign Secretary has to abandon the post for protecting a sex predator at the ministry. He was also instrumental in a very junior lady officer to an important Mission in Europe as Ambassador. However, timely intervention of a particular Minister prevented it. In the past, three female officers got Ambassadorial posts in exchange of sex favours although they were not eligible for these posts.
Failure to address the issues
Most of the female officers and the employees told us as the political leadership in the ministry is not interested in resolving such cases, the sexual harassment permeate. They are of the view that unless this situation is controlled there would be disastrous consequences of many types. As there had been a growing concern in the world about sexual harassment at the working place, according to them, the Minister of Foreign Affairs should take serious measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents. Issuing a circular based on 1978 Constitution would not help at all. They emphasized, a circular issued on 07-06-2018 is only to cover their hypocritical behaviour. As the very people who are issuing this particular circular are responsible for sexual violence against women at the Foreign Ministry, for a foreseeable future no one would be able to expect justice under the present system. However, what is seen is increased number of unmarried women, divorce cases, family issues and mental problems among the female officers and employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs owing to this situation.

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