Rape and torture ‘rife’ as hunt for Sri Lanka separatists goes on

President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the rebels in 2009. Picture: AFP
President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the rebels in 2009. Picture: AFP
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SRI Lanka’s security forces have used rape to torture and extract confessions from suspected Tamil separatists almost four years after the country’s civil war ended, Human Rights Watch has said in a new report documenting the abuses.

Human Rights Watch said that although the decades-long conflict ended in May 2009, politically motivated sexual violence against suspects in custody continues to this day. It called for an international investigation into the practice.

“Sri Lankan security forces have committed untold numbers of rapes of Tamil men and women in custody,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

“These are not just wartime atrocities but continue to the present, putting every Tamil man and woman arrested for suspected LTTE involvement at serious risk,” Mr Adams said, using the acronym for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the formal name of the rebels.

The war saw ethnic minority Tamil rebels fighting for their own homeland against troops from the Sinhalese majority government of president Mahinda Rajapaksa. More than 100,000 people were killed on both sides before the government crushed the rebels with a bloody push into rebel-controlled northern areas.

A UN report has said tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final five months of fighting alone.

The rebels themselves have been accused of widespread atrocities, including holding civilians as human shields, using child soldiers and killing people who tried to leave areas under their control.

The report comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council is set to discuss Sri Lanka’s alleged wartime abuses at its annual meeting in Geneva this week. At the meeting, the United States is expected to sponsor a resolution for the second time censuring Colombo and urging it to prosecute soldiers suspected of killing civilians.

Britain, Canada and the European Union, where there is a large presence of Tamil refugees and asylum seekers, are expected to support the resolution.

Sri Lanka is also due to host the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November, a venue that is becoming increasingly controversial.

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya rejected Human Rights Watch’s allegations, saying they lack credibility. He called them “fabricated allegations” and “good creative writing.”

The 41-page report provides detailed accounts of 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse that occurred from 2006-2012 in both official and secret detention centres across Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Watch said most of the victims spoke to them outside of Sri Lanka, and it corroborated their accounts with medical and legal reports. Because Human Rights Watch was not able to openly conduct research in Sri Lanka or interview people still in custody, it said the cases in its report most likely represent only a tiny fraction of custodial rape in political cases.