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

His father eventually bribed the security officers to free him he said, adding that he was hospitalized for 10 days after his release.

Most of the men said their families had paid an average bribe of 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees (US$3,255 at the current exchange rate) and up to US$20,000 to be smuggled into Europe — hefty sums that sometimes forced their families to sell parcels of land.

Many of the other victims said they had never worked for the Tamil Tigers, but all told similar tales: They were abducted at home or off the streets by men in white or green vans, they were tortured for days or weeks or months, a family member often secured their release through a bribe and they made their way to Europe using smugglers.

“I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my wife before I fled for England,” one of the men said.

Now, after all he has endured, Witness #249 relates to the tragic characters in the works of his beloved Shakespeare: broken and cursed.

Last year, Sri Lankan authorities were called to Geneva to testify before the UN Committee Against Torture.

When questioned about allegations of continued use of torture against suspects in police custody and impunity for alleged perpetrators, Sri Lankan Attorney-General Jayantha Jayasuriya said that the country’s constitution prohibited torture and that strengthening human rights was a cornerstone of its current agenda.

“Strict action” would be taken against perpetrators of human rights violations, Jayasuriya said.

However, advocates said that has not happened.

“Unless those responsible for these crimes are tackled head on and held accountable, this will not end,” International Truth and Justice Project project manager Frances Harrison said.

Many Tamils contended that the government continues to target them as part of a larger plan to destroy their culture.

Tamils speak a different language and are largely Hindu, unlike the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the war, including at least up to 40,000 civilians in its final months, according to UN estimates.

Sri Lankan authorities have denied targeting civilians and dispute the toll.

Witness #205, who reported that he was held for 21 days and tortured, said he was accused of belonging to the Tamil Tigers.

Like the majority of the other victims, he said that one of his captors identified himself as a member of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigations Department.

“These survivors are the walking wounded of an invisible war in which rape has become the ultimate covert weapon,” Harrison said.

CIGARETTE BURNS

Many of the victims meet each week at a London church for English classes and counseling sessions.

In July, a new member of the group stepped forward revealing at least 60 cigarette burns on his legs and chest. At 19, he was the youngest victim of the group and trembled when speaking of his sexual abuse.

“What’s striking is that I’m seeing men who are younger and younger, meaning that they would have had very little to do with the war,” said doctor Charmian Goldwyn, who has seen nearly 200 Tamils who said they were tortured.

Some of the cases occurred before 2015, but she has also seen men who have described more recent abuse.

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