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‘In Defence of Diaspora and Sri Lanka's Invisible Victims’

Hundreds of recent survivors of torture have been forced to flee Sri Lanka, says former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison, in a piece in the Huffington Post.

“Torture is for life,” said Ms Harrison who stated that those who have fled abroad “should not be rendered invisible”.

Extracts from her piece have been reproduced below.

See the full piece here.

“The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora numbers some million people worldwide. Some settled abroad decades ago; others fled only in recent months. In the current period of transition in the country there's much talk of victims' rights, though arguably little to realise them yet. The unthinking assumption is that the "victims" are those Tamils eking out a living in the former war zone, searching for loved ones, as well of course as the Sinhalese and Muslims who suffered. It's the victims inside the country whose fate is considered the litmus test for any future reconciliation effort.”

“But what about those who've fled abroad, those who've been driven out after experiencing unspeakable crimes. I call them the invisibles.”

“They're the ones who've been hung upside down and beaten on the soles of their feet so for the rest of their lives when they tread the pavements of London or Zurich the pain will remind them of their torturer. They will never undress without being conscious of the cigarette burn marks emblazoned on their private parts - some will never wear clothes that show their legs or backs now hideously deformed by burn scars from branding with hot metal rods. Many hide their suffering because of the shame of repeated sexual abuse and the gnawing fear that their families back home could be targeted. Toenails grow back, pieces of shrapnel can be removed in surgery, teeth can be repaired but the mental trauma and physical pain will never completely go away. Torture is for life."

“Nobody knows how many Sri Lankan Tamil war survivors have fled the island since the end of the fighting in 2009 for Europe, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and India”.

“But surely these victims are just as bit entitled to a stake in their island's future as the citizens who stayed put in the country. Survivors of the last phase of the civil war repeatedly say they their bodies are in England or Switzerland but their minds in Sri Lanka. They constantly scour the Internet for news of who is alive and who is dead, still haunted by recent events. These are not people who've settled by choice abroad. They should not be rendered invisible.”

“The current rush by human rights and development agencies to secure a presence inside Sri Lanka presupposes all the victims are physically there. The special rapporteur on transitional justice visited Sri Lanka earlier this year and called for any future accountability process to have the participation and trust of the victims. Even he forgot hundreds of recent survivors of the very worst abuses who are now abroad against their will.”