Men re­port rape, brand­ing and tor­ture by Sri Lankan forces

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

HE was barely a teenager when Sri Lanka’s civil war ended, spared by youth from wit­ness­ing its hor­rors.

But last year, the bru­tal con­flict caught up with Wit­ness #205.

Raped, branded and beaten, he is one of more than 50 men who say they were ab­ducted and tor­tured un­der Sri Lanka’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment. The men’s pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished ac­counts con­jure images of the bloody civil war that ended in 2009.

The men agreed to tell their sto­ries to The Associated Press and to have the ex­ten­sive scars on their legs, chests and backs pho­tographed in July and Au­gust. The AP re­viewed 30 med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tions and con­ducted in­ter­views with 20 men. The strangers said they were ac­cused of try­ing to re­vive the Tamil Tiger rebel group and tor­tured be­tween early 2016 to as re­cently as July of this year.

Sri Lankan au­thor­i­ties deny the al­le­ga­tions.

“The army was not in­volved — and as for that mat­ter — I’m sure that police also were not in­volved,” Sri Lanka army com­man­der Lt. Gen. Ma­hesh Se­nanayake told the AP in an in­ter­view last week in Colombo. “There’s no rea­son for us to do that now.”

The Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment min­is­ter in charge of the police agreed to an in­ter­view with the AP last month but did not fol­low through.

Sri Lanka’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment was elected in 2015. Many had hoped the new lead­er­ship would bring long­promised re­forms.

Piers Pigou, a South African hu­man rights in­ves­ti­ga­tor, said he has not seen tor­ture of this scale in his 40-year ca­reer.

“The lev­els of sex­ual abuse be­ing per­pet­u­ated in Sri Lanka by au­thor­i­ties are the most egre­gious and per­verted that I’ve ever seen.”

Sri Lanka has so far failed to in­ves­ti­gate war crimes al­le­ga­tions stem­ming from its 26-year civil war. At the end of Au­gust, hu­man rights groups in South Amer­ica filed law­suits against Sri Lanka’s am­bas­sador to Brazil, a for­mer gen­eral ac­cused of over­see­ing mil­i­tary units that at­tacked hos­pi­tals and tor­tured thou­sands at the end of the war. Upon his re­turn, Sri Lanka Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena said nei­ther the for­mer gen­eral nor other “war heroes” would be touched — a pledge that drew crit­i­cism from hu­man rights groups.

Nev­er­the­less, Sri Lanka’s in­ter­na­tional pro­file is on the rise. In May, the Euro­pean Union re­stored the special trade sta­tus that Sri Lanka lost in 2010 af­ter fail­ing to im­ple­ment key in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions. The coun­try also par­tic­i­pates in UN peace­keep­ing mis­sions. Re­cently, the In­dian Ocean na­tion was asked to sit on a UN lead­er­ship com­mit­tee try­ing to com­bat sex­ual abuse, de­spite the fact that an AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion ear­lier this year found that 134 Sri Lankan peace­keep­ers par­tic­i­pated in a child sex ring in Haiti that per­sisted for three years — and no one was ever pros­e­cuted.

Zeid Ra’ad al-hus­sein, a top UN diplo­mat who has pushed for ac­count­abil­ity in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the AP’S re­port on the men’s tor­ture.

“While the UN is un­able to con­firm this un­til we mount an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, clearly the re­ports are hor­ri­fy­ing and merit a much closer in­spec­tion from our part, es­pe­cially if they oc­curred in 2016 and 2017,” said Zeid, the UN high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights.

The In­ter­na­tional Truth and Jus­tice Project, an ad­vo­cacy group ad­min­is­tered by the Foun­da­tion for Hu­man Rights, has gath­ered tes­ti­mony from more than 60 Sri Lankans across Europe — 52 of whom were part of the AP’S in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The group has been lob­by­ing gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions to get jus­tice for vic­tims.

Most of the men say they were sex­u­ally abused or raped, some­times with sticks wrapped in barbed wire.

Wit­ness #205 said he was held for 21 days in a small room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cig­a­rettes, beaten with iron rods and hung up­side­down. An­other man de­scribed be­ing ab­ducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “tor­ture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buck­ets of wa­ter. Blood stained the walls.

A third said prison­ers had grown ac­cus­tomed to the sound of scream­ing. “It made us re­ally scared the first day but then we got used to it be­cause we heard scream­ing all the time.”

De­spite the shame of the sex­ual abuse, the men said they felt ob­li­gated to tell their sto­ries.

“I want the world to know what is hap­pen­ing in Sri Lanka,” a 22-year-old known as Wit­ness #205 told the AP dur­ing an in­ter­view in July. “The war against Tamils hasn’t stopped.” – AP

In this July 18, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Wit­ness #202 shows brand­ing marks on his back. Photo: AP

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