[lg policy] Sri Lanka says it will investigate allegations of torture of Tamils
haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Nov 9 10:51:56 EST 2017
EW DELHI (AP) — Sri Lanka says it will investigate allegations by more than
50 ethnic Tamils that they were abducted and tortured by police or army
soldiers long after the end of the island nation's civil war.
An Associated Press investigation published Wednesday offered detailed
testimony from 20 of the men, along with photographs of injuries they said
were sustained when they were raped, branded or beaten repeatedly in
custody. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against
relatives or friends in the Tamil minority who remain in Sri Lanka.
Dozens of medical and psychological evaluations reviewed by the AP
concluded their claims were credible.
The men, now seeking political asylum in Europe, said their captors accused
them of working to revive the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,
which battled Sri Lankan government forces for decades until their defeat
in 2009. The Sri Lankan government has said repeatedly, however, that the
rebel group is no longer a threat.
In a letter sent to the AP on Thursday, the Sinhalese-dominated government
said it "strongly condemns any act of torture" and would ensure that any
such allegations are "investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the
It urged those with evidence of abuse to come forward and report it.
"The government seeks the assistance and cooperation of all those relevant
parties in this endeavor including parties outside the country, as evidence
is key in the conduct of investigations," said the letter, signed by
Foreign Affairs Ministry official Prasad Kariyawasam.
Human rights groups have cautioned that many would be reluctant to come
forward, given that there is a large degree of distrust from asylum seekers
who fear for the families they left behind.
The government noted in its letter that some allegations were already being
dealt with. This year, authorities have disciplined 33 members of the
police force and dismissed one, it said, with another 100 cases still
pending. Also this year, it has received 28 new complaints of alleged
torture or abuse. It's unclear if any of those relate to the Tamil men who
spoke with the AP.
Sri Lanka has faced years of criticism for dismissing calls by the United
Nations and foreign governments for an independent inquiry into alleged war
crimes and other abuses committed by both sides during the 26-year war. The
Tamil Tiger rebels, as they were known, were designated a terrorist
organization after a wave of suicide bombings, and were also accused of
using child soldiers and killing Tamil political rivals. The government's
forces were accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime
under international law.
Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur for transitional justice
said Sri Lanka was nowhere close to where it should be in dealing with
allegations of war crimes and other rights violations from its civil war.
Pablo de Greiff said the government's failure to address issues he'd
highlighted two years earlier raised questions "about the determination of
the government to undertake a comprehensive transitional justice program."
Those issues, he said, included releasing civilian Tamil lands occupied by
the military, repealing a harsh anti-terror law, expediting cases against
terror suspects incarcerated for long periods of time and stopping
intimidating forms of surveillance.
The chief of Sri Lanka's army, which is still immensely popular and
powerful after defeating the rebels, told the AP last week that the
government and security forces were working toward establishing protocols
for such investigations to guarantee postwar truth and justice, and that
such a task could not be dictated from abroad by people who did not witness
"We have accepted a transitional justice process ... but that process will
take a little bit of time. We have to educate the troops who fought, then
the public. It cannot be worked on somebody else's timetable," army
commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake said. "Somebody sits outside the
country and immediately says, 'You have done this. This is the court where
you are going to be held responsible.' Which country would accept it?"
But he denied that Sri Lankan soldiers or members of the Criminal
Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes,
could have been involved in interrogating or abusing Tamils after the war.
"That doesn't mean we were involved before 2010," he said. "There's no
reason for us to do that now. ... We want them to come here, and to see the
truth" that Sri Lanka is cultivating a multicultural society where Tamils
are welcome, he said.
Like other Sri Lankan authorities interviewed over the past year, he
suggested that such allegations from members of the Tamil diaspora or
asylum seekers may be expressions of their frustration with the rebels'
defeat, and an effort to undermine Sri Lanka today.
"The people who don't want to be here, the people who don't want to be sent
out from their own community, who live in Europe are creating all these
issues," he said. If someone reports allegations and presents evidence that
Sri Lankan authorities can investigate, "I would have taken those
responsible to task. It didn't happen."
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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