06 November 2007
The United Nations has asked Sri Lanka to prosecute ‘to the fullest extent of the law’ 108 Sri Lankan soldiers with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors, including prostitution, the Sunday Times reported.
The number is one of the biggest single withdrawal of soldiers from a UN peacekeeping mission. During the conflict numerous local and international NGOs protested both frequent rapes by security forces and the climate of impunity in which they occur.
The charges against the Sri Lankan soldiers may include rape (which is constituted a "war crime" in the context of military conflicts) involving children under 18 years of age, the paper said.
The ejection of 108 out of Sri Lanka’s contingent of 950 for sex crimes highlights the frequency of rape during Sri Lankan operation in the Northeast during the decades long conflict.
In 2001, the year before a ceasefire ended the fighting, Amnesty International said it “has noted a marked rise in allegations of rape by [Sri Lankan] police, army and navy personnel.”
“Among the victims of rape by the security forces are many internally displaced women, women who admit being or having been members of the LTTE and female relatives of members or suspected male members of the LTTE,” Amnesty said.
“Reports of rape in custody concern children as young as 14,” Amnesty also said.
Amnesty said “to [our] knowledge, not a single member of the Sri Lankan security forces has been brought to trial in connection to incidents of rape in custody although one successful prosecution has been brought in a case where the victim of rape was also murdered.”
Also in 2001, Amnesty wrote to then Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, “urging her to take action to stop rape by security forces andbring perpetrators to justice” in response to reports of rape by security forces “in Mannar,Batticaloa,Negombo and Jaffna.”
“To date, no response has been received to the appeal,” Amnesty later said in a special report titled “Sri Lanka: Rape in Custody” which was published in January 2002, just as the Norwegian brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) came into being.
Earlier, in March 2000, the then United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, expressed her “grave concern” over the lack of serious investigation into allegations of gang rape and murder of women and girls by the Sri Lankan security forces.
In 2000, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) protested that “Sri Lankan security forces are using systematic rape and murder of Tamil women to subjugate the Tamil population... Impunity continues to reign as rape is used as a weapon of war in Sri Lanka.”
Apart from the ejection of 108 Sri Lankan troops from Haiti, the actions Colombo takes against them would also determine whether the UN will deploy Sri Lankan soldiers in future peacekeeping operations, the Sunday Times said.
A UN source told the paper that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would monitor what action the government proposed to take against the 108 soldiers who were part of a 950-member contingent from Sri Lanka.
"If they are found guilty, they should be punished for their crimes under the criminal justice system in the country," he said.
The UN would be very unhappy, he said, if only administrative and disciplinary actions were taken against the soldiers.
Asked how many soldiers would be repatriated, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters Friday that all 108 soldiers would be repatriated on disciplinary grounds.
The total number is one of the biggest single withdrawal of soldiers from a UN peacekeeping mission.
Asked about the nature of the charges, a UN spokeswoman said the allegations were against members of the Sri Lankan battalion stationed in a variety of locations in Haiti, and were of a "transactional sex" nature.
She also acknowledged that they involved prostitution, including in some cases with minors.
In its 1999 annual report, Amnesty International, said rape of female detainees was used amongst a range of torture methods.
In a statement to the UN in 1998, the World Organisation against Torture observed: “Sri Lankan soldiers have raped both women and young girls on a massive scale, and often with impunity, since reporting often leads to reprisals against the victims and their families.”
“The consistent policy of rape and violence against Tamil women that we have documented for many years is a fundamental military tactic of the Sri Lankan forces,” International Educational Development, an NGO, also told the UN that year.
Human rights NGOs have frequently protested the impunity Sri Lankan soldiers enjoy regarding rapes and other abuses.
“Only one of the thousands of rapes which have been reported, has resulted in a conviction,” Pax Romana said.
“There also seems to be little point to expect justice on the basis of the constitution since the constitution itself provides the mechanisms and justifications for the commission of these war crimes and encourages impunity.”