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Virginia University student documents internment testimonies

After having visited Sri Lanka in January 2012, as part of a group of students from the University of Virginia’s School of Law, Calleigh McRaith has written a brief summary of testimonies that he gathered from IDPs and others interned by Sri Lanka.

Focusing on IDP settlements, former LTTE members and those trapped in Sri Lanka’s prison system, McRaith concludes,

“The program of rehabilitation and on-going detention without charge of surrenderees continues to breed distrust among Tamil populations in the North, and many are still struggling to rebuild their lives after they were severely disrupted by the IDP internment.”

Extracts have been reproduced below. See the full piece here.

"Upon arriving in the camp she and the other IDPs were placed under close surveillance while the Army questioned people and attempted to screen out LTTE members – she was subjected to a strip search and was forced to go to the bathroom in front of the Army men, as they would not allow the IDPs to leave the presence of the guards even for these private acts. She began crying while telling this part of her story, saying that she felt shame because of this degrading treatment. She said that no matter what the government did now to try to win her trust, she could not give it because of how she was treated in Menik Farm."

"Petty theft and rape of young girls, by both the Army and camp residents, remain problems even now for those still living in Menik Farm, and the current residents expressed concern that life in the camps was destroying their culture and morality. Furthermore, it was reported that when some members of Menik Farm met with workers from an Indian NGO to discuss the camp conditions, the drinking water in the camp was shut off for five days afterwards – with the camp authorities explicitly saying that the water was withheld as punishment for talking to the NGO."

"This internment, particularly the harsh conditions and extreme surveillance, was not justified as necessary to national security, and IDPs who were detained deserve some sort of remedy for this violation of their rights. The government should also be sharply criticized for this policy, and further investigation should be conducted into the IDPs claims that the internment was a cover for maintaining control over the Tamil population. Furthermore, some IDPs are still living in Menik Farm, and their concerns about rape in the camps and the government-created obstacles to resettlement on their lands should be addressed."

"The bright vision painted by the government was a far cry from the reports I heard from people who had gone through rehabilitation."

"It is difficult to see why these citizens, who by the government’s own classification had very little connection to the LTTE, deserved to be separated from their families and undergo a full rehabilitation program for months or years. Since the first group of “beneficiaries” (or surrenderees, as I will call them) was not released until October 2010, it appears that those even with the most minimal and forced involvement were detained in rehabilitation from at least May 2009 until October 2010."

"Despite the government’s claims that the surrenderees were grateful for the rehabilitation, the surrenderees’ descriptions of that time show little differentiation between the rehabilitation setting and formal detention.  First, no surrenderee that I spoke with was aware that they had any choice about being in rehabilitation, discrediting the government’s claims that everyone who entered rehabilitation did so voluntarily. While the government assured me that every surrenderee had signed the proper consent forms, no one that I spoke with remembers signing anything."

"The surrenderees also reported that they were interrogated every fifteen days, and many reported being beaten during interrogations in rehabilitation. The government conceded that information from these interrogations was sometimes used to remove people from rehabilitation and place them in formal custody, further undercutting the government’s picture of rehabilitation as an amnesty tool. Most surrenderees felt that they were being closely watched, and that feared that they could be sent to prison at any time from rehabilitation, so most chose to censor their speech and tried to keep as low profile as possible during their time in rehabilitation."

"Finally, when the surrenderees were eventually released, they were given exit forms in Sinhala (which very few could read) and told that they would have to check in regularly with the military in their home village. Many reported harassment from the Army, including frequent interrogations and home visits, which intimidate the community and surrenderee’s family. Many expressed concern over the home visits, saying they do not feel safe leaving their family, especially mothers or sisters, alone if the Army might show up at any time."

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