Rape is being used as an instrument of torture by Sri Lankan security forces to extract confessions from suspected Tamil separatist supporters, the rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch has alleged.
As a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting that will examine Sri Lanka's civil rights record begins in Geneva, a report released by Human Rights Watch, We will teach you a lesson, details 75 statements from Tamil victims who say they were raped and tortured by soldiers, police and other pro-government para-military.
Thirty-one of the victims allege they were raped after the cessation of Sri Lanka's long-running civil war in May 2009.
The last case detailed in the report was in October 2012, but HRW says the practice is continuing and that the 75 cases outlined represent a tiny fraction of the total sexual assaults.
"The Sri Lankan security forces have committed untold numbers of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said. "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."
The Sri Lankan government dismissed the allegations as fake and as Tamil separatist propaganda.
Sri Lanka’s military spokesman, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, rejected all of the allegations, saying they lacked credibility. He said the report consisted of ‘‘fabricated allegations’’ and ‘‘good creative writing’’.
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India said there was no evidence to substantiate the claims. Prasad Kariyawasam said the testimonies of the 41 women, 31 men and three boys were likely made by ‘‘economic refugees’’ who ‘‘need a good story’’ to claim asylum.
‘‘Until we do a proper inquiry, we have to believe that these are all sob stories for the sake of obtaining asylum or refugee status in a developed country.’’
The 75 case studies presented by HRW bear strong similarities. All allegations, the rights body says, have been corroborated by medical and legal reports.
Typically, a Tamil man or woman is picked up off the street, or from their home, by a group of men driving an unmarked van.
They are interrogated, tortured – many are beaten with sand-filled pipes or burned with cigarettes – and then raped, usually by several people over several days, until they sign a confession, admitting to activity with separatist terrorist group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Tamil Tigers.
Some people are hung by their arms, others have plastic bags containing petrol forced over their heads.
One man, 21-year-old 'DK', alleges he was snatched from the street by two men in a white van in August 2012. He was held in a room and interrogated.
"One of the men in civilian clothes accused me of being an LTTE member . . . I denied all their allegations. Two other men came into the room. They started beating me with plastic pipes filled with sand, batons, and forced a petrol-infused bag on my head and tried to asphyxiate me.
They burned me all over with cigarettes during the questioning.
"At night when I was in a small room, a man in civilian clothes came and started touching me indecently. He told me to have oral sex with him. When I refused, he beat me and raped me. This happened every night for four or five nights. I signed the confession when I could not bear this torture any more."
Australia has previously raised concerns about government-sponsored torture and abuses in Sri Lanka.
In November, at a meeting of the UN's Universal Periodic Review, the Australian government told Sri Lanka it must "take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and security forces" as well as "all cases of abductions and disappearances".
Opening the Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Monday, the UN's Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay grouped Sri Lanka with countries such as Rwanda, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan as countries where human rights abuses had gone unpunished.
"There are still far too many people with command responsibility who escape justice for serious crimes and gross human rights violations . . . massive violations have occurred in . . . Sri Lanka."
- with agencies