The UN is to charge 114 Sri Lankan soldiers who were on peace-keeping missions with sexual exploitation and abuse against children, the Sunday Times reported last week.
The UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) says it is assisting in the pending legal proceedings initiated by the Sri Lankan Government, to ensure that all military members found guilty, according to Sri Lankan law, ‘are held accountable for their actions.’
The UN says charges should include rape - because it involves children under 18 years of age - which constitutes a ‘war crime’ in the context of military conflicts.
After an investigation into pending charges against Sri Lankan troops in Haiti, the OIOS has concluded that “acts of sexual exploitation and abuse (against children) were frequent and occurred usually at night, and at virtually every location where the contingent personnel were deployed,” the paper said.
“In exchange for sex, the children received small amounts of money, food, and sometimes mobile phones,” says the OIOS, the UN's investigative arm.
At the time of the initial allegation last November, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa asserted, when commenting on the Sri Lankan armed forces and their peace keeping missions, that, “I respect them profoundly and consider them as the most disciplined Forces in the world. They have not killed or raped anybody.”
The charges of sexual exploitation have been made against 114 members of the Sri Lankan armed forces who were serving as peacekeepers in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
They were part of a larger 950-member Sri Lankan contingent in the politically-troubled Caribbean nation.
Virtually all of the 114 troops were repatriated last November on ‘disciplinary grounds’.
The repatriation, described as one of the biggest single withdrawals of soldiers from a UN peacekeeping mission, was done in close cooperation with the Sri Lankan Government.
Three officers, a Lt. Colonel and two Majors who were Company Commanders, were withdrawn for failure to exercise command responsibilities in accordance with military norms and standards.
The UN may also seek the assistance of the Sri Lankan government to help provide compensation to victims of the crime.
The UN said the actions Colombo takes against them would also determine whether the UN will deploy Sri Lankan soldiers in future peacekeeping operations, the Sunday Times reported when the troops were ejected from Haiti.
A UN source told the paper that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would monitor what action the government proposed to take against the soldiers.
"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.
Sri Lankan military Spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said “Investigations are still going on. Our team is also looking into it. If they are found guilty they will be punished accordingly,”
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.”
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.”