Sat, Nov 11, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Eight years after Sri Lanka’s civil war, Tamil refugees speak of recent torture and rape

A civil war that hit the nation’s Tamil majority hard ended in 2009, but men who have fled the country tell stories of abduction and sexual torture as recent as this year

By Paisley Dodds  /  AP, LONDON

Illustration: Lance Liu

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 said he had been 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 where there were blood splatters on the wall.

A third man said the 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,” he said.

Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe have said they were abducted and tortured by 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The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.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 reporters and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and backs photographed. Reporters reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and interviewed 20 men.

The strangers said they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war and that, although combat ended eight years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early last year to as recently as July this year.

Sri Lankan authorities have denied the allegations.

Crisis Group senior consultant 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, said 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,” he said.

Most of the men said they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites, adding that the majority of their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes.

However, some said it appeared that their captors and interrogators were soldiers, based on the types of uniforms and insignia they were wearing.

In an interview last week in Colombo, Sri Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General 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 minister in charge of the police agreed to an interview last month, but did not follow through.

Despite its denials that widespread torture still persists, Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to investigate war crimes allegations stemming from its 26-year civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent homeland, and the Sinhalese-dominated government.

The Tigers, as they were known, were designated as a terrorist organization after a wave of suicide bombings. The government’s forces were accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime under international law.

At the end of August, human rights groups in South American nations filed lawsuits against General 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, disappeared and tortured thousands of people at the end of the war.

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