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Fear dogs Mannar rape trial

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Wijikala Nanthan, one of two Tamil women raped and tortured by Sri Lanka Counter-terrorist policemen after being arrested in Mannar in March 2001 is reported missing this week as the trial of her attackers is due.

Sivamani Weerakon, the other victim, has received threats that she will be killed if she gives evidence against their attackers.

Twelve Sri Lanka policemen and two Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) soldiers were identified by the women as their attackers. The men have been indicted with the rape and torture of the two women while they were being held in the custody of Mannar Police.

The two women were arrested by the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) of the Police in Mannar on 19 March 2001. Ms Weerakon was stripped naked, assaulted and tortured by five men in her cell. The woman’s five-year-old child was also detained with her at the CSU. Ms Nanthan, who was pregnant at the time of the arrest, was also tortured and raped, according to a report presented to Mannar Court by the District Medical Officer of Mannar.

“The atrocities of the Navy personnel in Mannar district are growing bad to worse daily. All my efforts to get the Navy to respect the basic human rights of the people so affected by the prolonged war are proving futile,” Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph Bishop of Mannar said in a statement issued after the women’s story broke in the press.

Mr. A. S. M. Faszmi, the Mannar journalist who first reported of the arrest and subsequent rape and torture of the women, has been subjected to interrogation and harassment by the Sri Lanka Army intelligence in the town.

He has also received death threats for reporting on this and other human rights violations in the town.

The Mannar Citizens’ Committee, which began campaigning on behalf of the women as soon as the assault came to light, promptly begun receive threatening calls demanding to know the women’s whereabouts.

“We get at least three or four threatening calls a day. The callers say all the members of the Citizens’ Committee would be wiped out once the Sivamani, Wijikala case is over,” a member of the Committee told TamilNet then.

“When the two women were released on bail, personnel from the Military Intelligence unit of the 21-5 brigade in Mannar went to the Citizens’ Committee, demanding to know the whereabouts of [the women] and calling them whores,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Wijikala’s mother was also threatened by members of the Sri Lankan security forces, he said, adding “there are parties with vested interests who are trying their best to threaten and intimidate Sivamani, Wijikala and all those who spoke up for them here.”

Mr. M. Remedius, a human rights lawyer representing the women, said the intimidation has continued unabated. Five years after the attack, the case is only now coming to trial. The two women have been struggling to make new lives for themselves.

Although the attacks took place in Mannar and the men were based at the local police station at the time, the indictments against them were filed in a court in Anuradhapura, forcing the victims and witnesses to travel to the central town from the western coast if they wished to proceed with the charges.

The move away from the mainly Tamil region where the attacks took place to the Sinhala town has been condemned by rights activists as a move to ensure the servicemen, all of whom are Sinhalese, received a more sympathetic trial.

Tamil women’s groups see the attacks as an inevitable consequence of impunity enjoyed by Sinhala military personnel who expect to be tried in a Sinhala-dominated justice system.

“There are many laws and schemes for the protection of women, but appropriate action is not taken against those flouting them,” the Mannar Women’s Front said in a memorandum sent to the President after the attacks.

“On the contrary, at the highest rungs of the Government, such obvious offences are even denied, disowned and covered up. This creates in the public mistrust in the rule of law and becomes an encouragement for the criminals. The Government, instead of ensuring the safety of the public, is interested in protecting the security forces”, the memorandum said.

The leader of Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, Mr R Sampanthan has also queried whether the government’s attitude contributed to the rapes.

“It would appear that some service personnel think that if a Tamil is implicated even falsely with the LTTE, any crime can be committed against such Tamil person” he said in a letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

“It would be pertinent to raise the question as to whether pugnacious statements made by persons in high positions and the expressed determination of the Government to continue with the war, contributes towards the unleashing of brutality such as rape and torture on unarmed Tamil civilians particularly Tamil females.”

‘I was screaming and pleading’ [September 28, 2005]

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