London, Feb 26: Sri Lankan security forces have used rape and other forms of sexual violence to torture suspected members or supporters of the Tamil Tigers, Human Rights Watch ((HRW) said Tuesday.
While widespread rape in custody occurred during the armed conflict that ended in 2009, HRW found that politically motivated sexual violence by the military and police continues to the present.
A 140-page report, “‘We Will Teach You a Lesson’: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces,” provides detailed accounts of 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse during 2006-12 in both official and secret detention centres in Sri Lanka.
In the cases documented by HRW, men and women reported being raped on multiple days, often by several people, with the army, police and pro-government paramilitary groups frequently participating.
“The Sri Lankan security forces have committed untold numbers of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
“These are not just wartime atrocities but continue to the present, putting every Tamil man and woman arrested for suspected LTTE involvement at serious risk,” he said.
Most rape victims spoke outside of Sri Lanka, and corroborated their accounts with medical and legal reports.
Because HRW was not able to openly conduct research in Sri Lanka or interview people still in custody, these cases probably represent only a tiny fraction of custodial rape in political cases, it said.
Many cases followed a pattern of an individual being abducted from home by unidentified men, taken to a detention centre, and abusively interrogated about alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
A 23-year-old man who returned from abroad said he was abducted, held without charge, and raped on three consecutive days until he signed a confession.
A 32-year-old woman said she was detained by two plainclothes men who stripped and photographed her naked. “They told me to confess about everything. I refused to confess as I thought they would kill me. I was beaten up and tortured.
“On the second day, a man came to my room and raped me. I was raped by different men on at least three days. I can’t remember how many times,” she was quoted as saying.
Rape and other sexual violence of detained men and women by the security forces during and ever since the armed conflict suggest that sexual abuse has been a key element of the broader use of torture and ill-treatment against suspected LTTE members and supporters, HRW said.
The torture is intended to obtain “confessions” of involvement in LTTE activities, information on others including spouses and relatives and to instil terror in the Tamil population to discourage involvement with the LTTE.
The victims also described being beaten, hung by their arms, partially asphyxiated, and burned with cigarettes.
None of those who spoke to HRW had access to legal counsel, family members, or doctors while they were detained.
Most said they signed a confession in the hope that the abuse would stop, though the torture, including rape, often continued.
The individuals interviewed were not formally released but rather allowed to “escape” after a relative paid the authorities a bribe.
Women and men who alleged rape said they had generally kept silent about their abuse, fearing social stigmatization and reprisals from perpetrators if they reported the crime.
The reluctance to report sexual abuse also stems from institutional barriers imposed by the Sri Lankan government to block effective reporting and investigation of rape cases.
No member of the security forces has been prosecuted, let alone convicted, for rape in custody in the final years of the conflict or since the war’s end.
Interviewees told HRW that military and police personnel seldom made any effort to disguise being members of state security forces.
These included the military, military intelligence and the police, including specialized units such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorism Investigation Department (TID).
Victims identified the specific camps and detention sites where the abuse occurred.