One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small, dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down.
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. There were blood splatters on the wall.
A third man described the prisoners as growing 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.”
Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current government. The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.
One by one, the men agreed to tell their stories to the Associated Press and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and groins photographed in July and August. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and conducted interviews with 20 men. The strangers say they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war. Although combat ended eight years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July of this year.
Sri Lankan authorities deny the allegations.
Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator who has interviewed torture survivors for the past 40 years in the world’s most dire countries, says the sheer scale of brutality is nothing like he has heard before.
“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.”
Most of the men say they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites. They said the majority of their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes. Some, however, said it appeared their captors and interrogators were soldiers based on the types of uniforms and insignia they were wearing. One man reported seeing army uniforms hanging on a clothesline and many of the men wearing army boots.
In an interview last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka army commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake denied the torture allegations.
“The army was not involved — and as for that matter — I’m sure that police also were not involved,” he said. “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.
Despite its denials that widespread torture persists among its security forces, Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to investigate war crimes allegations stemming from its 26-year civil war.
That conflict was between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. The Tigers, as they were known, were designated a terrorist organization after a wave of suicide bombings. The government’s forces, however, were also accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime under international law.
At the end of August, human rights groups in South America filed lawsuits against Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil and other South American nations. He is accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, made disappear and tortured thousands of people at the end of the war. Other high-ranking officials — often shielded by diplomatic immunity — have also been accused.
Upon the ambassador’s return to Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya nor any other “war hero” would face prosecution for such allegations — a pledge that rights groups said illustrates the government’s refusal to investigate its own soldiers accused of war crimes.
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 the European Commission found that the country had failed to implement key international conventions. Sri Lanka is also paid to participate in UN peacekeeping missions and was recently asked to sit on a UN leadership committee trying to combat sexual abuse. 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, one of the UN’s top diplomats who has pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the AP’s accounts of the 52 tortured men.
“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’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The International Truth and Justice Project 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 organizations to get justice for victims.
The non-governmental organization assigned the men witness numbers to protect their identities. The men agreed to share their stories on condition of anonymity out of fear that they or their families in Sri Lanka could face reprisals.
The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, but the government insisted in its interview with the AP that the rebel group is no longer a threat. Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes meant to symbolize the rebel group that fought against the Sinhalese-dominated government for an independent Tamil homeland. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.
Most of the men say they were sexually abused or raped, sometimes with sticks wrapped in barbed wire. Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka and rape carries a significant social stigma. Still, the victims 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.”
To read the full article, refer to http://nypost.com/2017/11/08/dozens-of-men-describe-rape-torture-by-sri-lanka-government.
This article first appeared on the New York Post website: http://nypost.com/2017/11/08/dozens-of-men-describe-rape-torture-by-sri-lanka-government.
Picture courtesy of Associated Press: www.ap.org/en-us.