Sri Lanka: Fresh torture under new regime

Tamils protest for the release of political prisoners. Colombo, October 2015.

When Maithripala Sirisena was elected as president of Sri Lanka in January last year, he promised to end human rights violations by the security forces.

Under Sirisena's predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, it was common practice for the army and police to abduct people and torture them. Some were later released, while others were murdered.

Many of the victims are Tamils believed to be supporters of the struggle for an independent Tamil homeland. Others are human rights activists and journalists critical of the government.

Sirisena promised to end all this. But a new report shows that abductions, torture and rape by members of the army and police continue.

The International Truth and Justice Project-Sri Lanka has published a report based on interviews with 20 Tamils who were abducted last year — after Sirisena's election — and who are now living outside Sri Lanka.

Their testimony was confirmed by physical evidence of torture, such as scarring, and by psychological or psychiatric symptoms of torture and sexual abuse.

Methods of torture included “beating, whipping, burning with cigarettes, branding with heated metal rods, water torture, asphyxiation in a plastic bag soaked in petrol or chilli and tied around their necks, hanging upside down, beating on the soles of the feet and the use of electric currents through their body”.

Both males and female victims were gang-raped by their captors.

Some of the victims were former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an armed independence movement that was defeated in 2009. But other victims had solely been involved in peaceful political activity, such as campaigning for the Tamil National Alliance or the Tamil National Peoples Front in elections, or protesting about the disappearance of their relatives in state custody.

The report said the perpetrators have “an undiminished confidence that they will never be held accountable”. For instance, they do not hide their faces. They include senior officers of the police and military intelligence.

The victims were released after their families paid a ransom. Thus the abductions appear motivated partly by money, as well as by political motives such as hostility to Tamil rights.

The continuation of abductions, torture and rape in Sri Lanka highlights the importance of opposing the Australian government's plans to send more Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka. More than 1600 have already been deported.

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