Content warning: sexual violence
Sexual violence against Tamil men by the Sri Lankan state was ‘widespread’ and ‘egregious’ both during and after the war, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) concluded in its latest report, launched at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today.
The report analyses testimonies collected by the organisation over four years, which show Tamils have been disproportionately affected by sexual violence by state security forces, both during the war and in the post-war context, and that sexual violence has been committed to a large extent by those in Sri Lanka’s “extensive security apparatus who profit from a culture of impunity.”
The testimonies used in the report were from Tamil men in ages ranging from the youngest aged 14 at the time of the violations to the oldest victim in his late forties.
Also mentioning that the Indian Peacekeeping Forces committed sexual violence against men during their occupation between 1987 and 1990, the report states that the culture of impunity for perpetrators in Sri Lanka has been fostered by government representatives repeatedly denying or minimalising the problem over the years.
The report also highlights that no allegations of sexual violence were made against the LTTE by outside actors, and that the LTTE severely punished troops who committed sexual violence.
Perpetrators are identified as belonging to the various branches of Sri Lanka’s security services, with testimonies mentioning the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the different branches of military forces. Female officers were also implicated as participating and aiding sexual torture. The victims are not always able to identify to which force the perpetrators belong, as they are sometimes dressed in civilian attire, the report says.
The abuses were committed across various “rehabilitation centres”, army camps, prisons and centres of detention of the CID and TID as well as unofficial places of detention in houses and other buildings, the report states.
With the testimonies including Tamil men who were both arrested or abducted, the report says that in recent years there has been a tendency to arrest or abduct men who have only tenuous links with the LTTE, such as being related to a member, or none at all. Some men were detained because they had been seen at a protest, or because they had campaigned for a political party or worked for an NGO.
The report also explores how stigmatisation and the taboo of sexual violence, let alone male victimisation, have allowed perpetrators to preserve their impunity.
Institutionalised sexual violence against Tamils
The report concludes that the sexual violence can be defined as strategic and takes place in a context of institutionalised torture where the state apparatus’ goals range from the extraction of information to the subordination of the Tamil community.
“These cases are not isolated incidents nor are the detainees solely victims of unusually opportunistic guards whose behaviour is condoned by commanders,” the report asserts.
The goal of extracting information seems secondary to that of dominating, objectifying, humiliating and dehumanising the victims, the report suggests, mentioning that in several instances mobile phone footage of the rape and torture of female victims, particularly female LTTE cadres, were then shown to male detainees to humiliate them.
The testimonies also bear down on the racial nature of the sexual violence, with the Tamil victims describing the racial slurs used against them by the almost exclusively Sinhalese perpetrators.
“The current political environment in Sri Lanka, with its stalled reconciliation process and massive abuses of human rights, is unfortunately not conducive to major changes beneficial for either female or male survivors,” the report says in its conclusion.
“The impunity for war crimes and sexual crimes, corruption, the denial and silence, the lack of gender transitional justice mechanisms not to mention the complete absence of transitional justice are all huge impediments to improving the situation for survivors of sexual violence.”