Human Rights

Prima facie case for post-war crimes against humanity by Sri Lankan military: New Report

A new report based on investigation into worsening post-war human rights situation in Sri Lanka, has credibly found that the country’s military “is still waging a campaign of persecution using abduction, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual violence”, thus establishing a prima facie case to answer for post-war crimes against humanity by its military.

The report, produced by international human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, the UK Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the International Truth & Justice Project, Sri Lanka, has collected “disturbing testimony from 40 victims to support one of the most compelling legal cases to date for holding the island's authorities to account for crimes against humanity”.

The powerful report titled “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka, May 2009-March 2014" was launched on Friday, March 21 by Yasmin Sooka at a function at the Canadian High Commission in London.

Yasmin Sooka from South Africa, is one of the members of three-member expert panel which was established by the UN Secretary General in June 2010 on accountability in Sri Lanka with regard to the alleged violations of international humanitarian an human rights law during the final months of the war.

Credibly finding that horrific tactics are used in “Sri Lanka's continuing war against ethnic Tamils”, the new report said “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”.

According to the report, almost all incidents have taken place after the war, some of it as recently as February 2014. It said that credible accounts of the witnesses, documented by nine independent lawyers from Western and Asian countries, has established a prima facie case to answer for post-war crimes against humanity involving torture, rape and sexual violence by the Sri Lankan military.

Launching the report, Yasmin Sooka said that the cases of brutal rape, sexual abuses “are not isolated ones, but have become institutionalised, with abusers enjoying full-scale impunity”.

“Witnesses in this report are not only victims, but also key witnesses to brutal sexual abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Failed asylum seekers, LTTE cadres at the rehabilitation centres are the key targets of SL military. Many were released and re-arrested to face more abuses,” Sooka said, stressing the need for an urgent and comprehensive witness protection.

“Human rights defenders in Sri Lanka are under siege. The report is a chilling reminder that Human Rights violations including abduction, torture and rape continue to take place in Sri Lanka,” Sooka said.

Speaking at the launch, Kirsty Brimelow QC, of the BHRC said that five years of continued torture after the war in 2009 “must call for some action”

“Here is a real opportunity for the UN to show that it is not a laughing stock on Human Rights. We don’t want this report to be just another report that can be brushed aside. The UN Security Council should refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court and the UN experts must be allowed to carry out investigations,” Ms Kirsty Brimelow said.

She said that the UN should suspend immediately the Sri Lankan military and the police from the UN peace keeping missions until the completion of an international independent investigation into their abuses and rights violations. 

The new report has come out at a time when Sri Lanka is facing a vote on a resolution next week at the ongoing UNHRC in Geneva, despite a diplomatic tag-of-war on the wording of the resolution, co-sponsored by the US and the UK governments. Human Rights activists on ground and abroad insist that any resolution against Sri Lanka will be tangible and meaningful, only if it calls for an international independent investigation within a definite time frame. Hawkish Rajapaksa government has already gone on the offensive, publicly rejecting any resolution calling for international investigation, while stepping ups its retaliatory military campaign to arrest the local human rights activists in the former war zone. 

The full press release:

BRUTAL TACTICS OF POST-WAR SRI LANKA EXPOSED IN NEW INVESTIGATION

The horrific tactics used in Sri Lanka's continuing war against ethnic Tamils are laid bare in a new report that collects disturbing testimony from 40 victims to support one of the most compelling legal cases to date for holding the island's authorities to account for crimes against humanity.

The report, “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka, May 2009-March 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.”

© JDS