Human Rights

Rights watchdog warns exiled Tamils against return to Sri Lanka

An international human rights organisation led by a former member of the South African Truth Commission has warned against Tamils in exile suspected of association with Tamil Tigers returning to Sri Lanka. “It is not yet safe to return home if.....

“It is not yet safe to return home if you had any connection with the LTTE in the past, however tenuous and however long ago, even being a low level cadre,” says International Truth and Justice Project in a report released on Wednesday (06).

The 45 page report, ‘Silenced: survivors of torture and sexual violence in 2015’ reveals details of ongoing abductions and sexual torture even a year after a new government that promised to end violations was elected to office.

“The lives of the twenty survivors of torture and sexual violence described in this report have been utterly destroyed. That should weigh heavily on all those in the new government in Sri Lanka whose action or inaction has failed to protect their citizens and their families,” the report says.

Tamils still surveillance

The report has found that Tamils who return to Sri Lanka from abroad are under surveillance and there is still an extensive network of Tamil informers watching for people returning home, especially in the Tamil speaking Vanni.

“The intelligence services will likely watch someone for a few days on return to the country before picking them up, so clearing the airport is no guarantee of future safety.

“Sadly Sri Lanka’s notorious ‘white vans’ are still operating; it’s very much business as usual,” head of ITJP, Yasmin Sooka said.

Sexual torture against men

The report has also recorded shocking details of torture and sexual violence by members of the Sri Lanka’s defence establishment.

“The perpetrators comprise both CID (police) and military intelligence operatives and they also include senior officers. In one case the torture chamber actually had a photograph of the interrogator shaking hands with the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa,” the report says, highlighting the fact that higher officers were aware of torture inside state security premises.

ITJP spokesperson and former BBC Journalist Frances Harisson told JDS that two thirds of sexual violence have been directed against men.

“This has nothing to do with sexual gratification. It is about violence and exercising power with an extraordinary level of impunity,” she said.

'Give priority to tackle torture' - FfT

On the eve of President Maithripala Sirisena completing one year in office, London based non profit organisation, Freedom from Torture (FfT) urges the government to place a ‘higher priority on tackling torture by the country’s military, police and security services’.

“In 2015, for the fourth year in a row, Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for those referred to Freedom from Torture for clinical services. More than 300 Sri Lankan referrals were received in all, more than 20% of all referrals received by the charity last year,” says FfT.

Both ITJP and FfT have called upon the Sri Lanka government to undertake security sector reform and to set up a reliable witness protection mechanism in order to bring justice to victims and punish perpetrators.

ITJP concludes that the violence against those who are suspected of having links to the Tamil militancy is not isolated. It says it is not 'a question of a few rotten apples'.

"These cases reveal not only that torture and repression continue in Sri Lanka but that they remain widespread and systematic. They are the work of a well-organised machine which continues to thrive within the Sri Lankan police and military fueled by extortion. It is responsible for terrorising and oppressing Tamils. This is therefore not a question of a few rotten apples in the system, as the new government so often suggests, but rather the result of structures that have long been corrupted."

© JDS