In a post on Instagram, British activist and tourist, Kayleigh Fraser, details a harrowing experience of sexual assault and an attempted cover-up by Sri Lanka police.
After reporting her rape to the tourist police, Fraser received a call from Weligama police that requested to speak in person. “They marched me into a room where they told me to sit down. As I walked into this room, the four men who had assaulted me were standing in that room. I was told to write a letter saying that my statement was untrue. I refused”.
“I spent an hour, maybe two hours, I eventually was so pressured […] I remember crying, and the policemen opening laughing and mocking me as I cried". "I was told that if I did not write this letter, it was not safe to stay in Sri Lanka”.
Fraser details that she initially wrote a letter stating that she had been asked to withdraw her statement and that she does so. This letter enraged the police, who tore it up and dictate what should be written. “This was as traumatizing as what actually happened to me”, she states.
Earlier during her stay, Sri Lanka police had seized her passport after she had reported critically on the crackdown on protesters.
“This isn’t a one-off story”, she notes. In 2011, British national aid worker Khuram Shaikh Zaman was violently beaten and shot in the head whilst his Russian girlfriend was gang raped in a resort in Tangalle. The trial was delayed for over two years due to the perpetrator’s political influence however significant diplomatic pressure from Britain eventually led to a guilty conviction.
“If this is happening to foreigners, how many local women would bother to report sexual assault in this country? They know more than we do how this system works” Fraser states.
The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) detailed continued cases of abduction, torture and rape in Sri Lanka with the victims being Tamil activists.
"The victims being detained now are generally young and of little intelligence value to the security forces, who appear to be mounting a campaign of repression against legitimate Tamil expression of fundamental rights including protests or calls for accountability," the report stated.
Sri Lankan police have come under heavy criticism in recent years for their brutality with continued cases of torture and sexual violence. In August 2021, Senior DIG Attorney Ajith Rohana sparked outrage when he admitted that Sri Lankan police “under no circumstances” would investigate cases of domestic abuse.
“Unlike European countries, we have a culture, we have values, we have ethics” Rohana asserted.
The US State Department details that whilst Sri Lankan law prohibits rape and domestic violence, enforcement of the law is inconsistent. Furthermore, spousal rape is only prohibited in circumstances in which the couple are legally separated.
In November 2021, Police Scotland informed the UK High Commission in Sri Lanka that they will not extend their training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force in March 2022 due to ongoing human rights concerns. Yet the UK Foreign Office has since stressed that “Police Scotland’s decision does not mean that there will be no future programme of UK-funded support to the Sri Lankan police.”
Human rights organisations such as the ITJP have called on the British government to cease its training programme with Sri Lanka noting how the Sri Lanka police had used this programme to whitewash their crimes.
In 2016, the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture included a police officer named in a UN investigation as being in charge of one of the worst torture sites at the end of the civil war. They presented the British training as a marker of reform despite continued abuses.