By Brian Senewiratne – Dr. Brian Senewiratne
The rape of Tamil civilians (women, girls and even men) in the Sri Lankan North and East by the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Armed Forces (at all levels), Police, specialised Police units such as the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID), the Colombo Crime Division (CCD), National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), and the Sri Lankan Intelligence Service (SIS), pro-government Tamil paramilitary groups, and even Sinhalese workers relocated or sent to the Tamil areas to work on several projects, has now become a major problem.
With the brutal (Sinhalese) military and police running the North and East, treating the Tamil civilians as the ‘spoils of war’, and the area as ‘conquered territory’, backed by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa that does what it likes to whoever it likes with no accountability, international intervention is mandatory and urgent.
A leading organisation for women in Sri Lanka said, on 14 July 2013, that in Sri Lanka a woman is raped every 90 minutes. With well-documented under-reporting because of shame or fear, the actual number of people subjected to rape and sexual violence in the Tamil areas, is much higher.
Rape is defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Rape is a war crime when inflicted with impunity by victorious armies. Broader than rape, any form of sexual violence is prohibited under both customary International Humanitarian Law and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. International human rights law prohibits sexual violence.
Sexual violence consists of actions of a sexual nature committed with a person without their consent, which besides including the physical invasion of the human body, may include acts that do not imply penetration or even any physical contact whatsoever. Examples include forced nudity or virginity tests. Covering a broad range of gender-based offences such as rape, sexual slavery, molestation, sexual mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilisation, sexual violence is defined as any act of a sexual nature that is committed on a person under circumstances that are coercive.
Acts of sexual violence may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.
In addition to direct criminal responsibility for crimes committed on the ground, commanders or other superiors (military or civil) may be guilty for failing to prevent or punish crimes by their subordinates.
The increased (Sinhalese) militarisation of the North and East is one of the most important factors (if not the most important factor) for the large number of documented instances of rape and sexual violence unleashed on the local (Tamil) population. The corollary is that unless/until the Armed Forces are removed from the Tamil areas, the ‘epidemic’ of rape will continue.
The Sri Lankan government’s policy of protecting criminals and allowing local politicians and others who support the regime in power, to carry out such crimes with impunity has compounded the problem.
The criminal justice system in the country has collapsed. There are serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the adequacy of other checks on Executive and Military/Police power. The increase in rape cases is a sign of lawlessness.
It is crucial to appreciate that rape and other gross violations of human rights are going on today in the Tamil North and East, nearly five years after the end of the armed conflict. The current problem is due to four factors:- 1)The GoSL and its Armed Forces believing that the Tamil people are the ‘victims of war’. 2) The Sri Lankan Armed Forces running the Tamil areas – behaving like an Army of Occupation with no accountability. 3) The collapse of Law and Order and even the judicial system. 4) The exclusion of internationally credible human rights groups, independent observers and the media from the area by the GoSL.
As a doctor of medicine in Australia, there have been several Sri Lankan asylum seekers referred to me who are in need of medical attention. Many of them had been raped, and have physical and psychological problems.
Since much of the rape in the Tamil areas is associated with the 26-year long war in Sri Lanka, this is briefly described.
WikiLeaks has released a document sent in 2006 by then US Ambassador (Robert O.Blake Jr) in Colombo, to the USA, titled, Sri Lanka: GSL complicity in paramilitary factions’ Human Rights abuses.The Ambassador’s report deals with two separate parts of the Tamil North and East under two (Tamil) people, Douglas Devananda (in Jaffna in the North), and ‘Karuna’ (Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan) (in the East). This is reproduced.
The ground situation in the Tamil North and East is described, and the options available to the (Tamil) people who live there – 1)To conceal the fact that they have been raped. 2) To struggle and cope with the consequences, including pregnancy. 3)To seek (physical) refuge. 4)To complain. 5). To leave the country if possible. 6)To commit suicide.
The legal dimension is gone into in detail – both International Law, Conventions and Treaties and Sri Lanka’s Laws and the Constitution.
Major international publications on Rape in Sri Lanka are cited and discussed.
The urgent need to admit Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group into Sri Lanka in general, the Tamil North and East in particular, for humanitarian reasons, is stressed. This, of course, the Sri Lankan regime will not allow. Hence the absolute need for international pressure, with force if necessary. The use of force is permitted in the UN R2P (Responsibility To Protect). The Tamil civilians in the North and East are most definitely in need of protection.
The question of addressing the problem locally and internationally are set out.
The publication ends with a series of suggested actions.
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