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Sri Lankan military attempts to cover up Haiti peacekeeper abuses

The Sri Lankan military has been accused of attempting to mislead the Right to Information (RTI) Commission over the extent and nature of sexual abuse committed by Sri Lankan troops whilst deployed as United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti.

A confidential United Nations investigation identified 134 Sri Lankan soldiers who are alleged to have sexually exploited nine Haitian boys and girls from late 2004 to mid-2007, during a peacekeeping mission in the country. “The acts of sexual exploitation and abuse were frequent, occurred usually at night, and at virtually every location where Sri Lankan military were deployed,” said the report.

However, in a submission to a RTI Commission, the Sri Lankan military contradicted earlier statements on the extent of the sexual abuse and attempted to downplay the scale of crimes committed. The military stated that “only 3 had been involved” and also refused to give further information on the grounds that it would “tarnish the name of the SLA in the international fora and could be used for propaganda purposes”.

“It is not acceptable for the military to hide behind arguments of national security when it comes to transparency about criminal accountability for soldiers sexually violating children they were supposed to protect,” said executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project, Yasmin Sooka in a joint press release with Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka today. “It is ludicrous that the Ministry of Defence is claiming that full transparency – rather than the crimes committed - might damage the country’s reputation a decade later; it is this secrecy that damages Sri Lanka’s reputation”.

“In its submission to the RTI request, the Ministry of Defence has failed to give any information about the domestic justice process required to be initiated once the soldiers reached home – instead they just claim they cannot reveal any information from the UN inquiry because it is confidential,” said Bashana Abeywardane of Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. “All this makes you wonder if there actually was any further investigative and judicial process in Sri Lanka – more so when you look at the discrepancy in numbers emanating from the Government.”

In its claim that only 3 officers were involved in the sexual abuse, the Sri Lankan military contradicts a statement by the Government of Sri Lanka to the UN Committee Against Torture, which said 23 men were convicted in connection with the sexual violations in Haiti, noted the press release. “Bizarrely the MOD officer seemed to be aware there had been public statements about accountability but still contradicted them,” it added.

The joint press release also noted that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence had referred to its investigation as the “Investigation report on Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Minor Girls”, which obscures the fact that young Haitian boys were also sexually abused. “One Haitian boy in the UN report said he had both anal and oral sex with more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers,” said the press release.

“Given what we and several UN reports have found about the extent of male sexual violence committed by the Sri Lankan Army, this comes as no surprise,” said Ms. Sooka. “You can’t just make something you don’t like go away by re-naming a UN report”.

See the full press release here.

See the full text on the issue from Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI) Commission here.

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