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

Upon the ambassador’s return to Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya nor any other “war hero” would face prosecution — 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 EU restored the special trade status that Sri Lanka lost in 2010, after 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.

Investigation by reporters earlier this year showed that 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers participated in a child sex ring in Haiti that persisted for three years — and no one was ever prosecuted.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who has pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the 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,” Zeid said.

The International Truth and Justice Project has gathered testimony from more than 60 Sri Lankans across Europe — 52 of whom were part of the investigation. The group has been lobbying governments and international organizations to get justice for victims. Staff assigned the men witness numbers to protect their identities and reporters agreed to share their stories on condition of anonymity because the men 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 that the rebel group is no longer a threat.

Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.

Most of the men said they were sexually abused or raped, sometimes with sticks wrapped in barbed wire, and although rape carries a significant social stigma, 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 reporters during an interview in July. “The war against Tamils hasn’t stopped.”

ABDUCTION VAN

Unlike most of the victims, Witness #249 admitted to having been a member of the Tigers nearly a decade ago, joining up when their ranks had been depleted in the final stages of the war.

He walked with a limp, caused by a piece of shrapnel left in his leg from a battle in which nine of his friends were blown up. After the war, he returned to the family farm, helping his father. Last year, he married his high-school sweetheart and began collecting donations for victims of the war.

Soon after his wedding last year, he said he was snatched off the streets, arriving at a torture room hours later.

“They heated up iron rods and burned my back with stripes,” he told reporters, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth. “On another occasion, they put chili powder in a bag and put the bag over my head until I passed out. They... raped me.”

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