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Dozens of men describe rape, torture by Sri Lanka government

November 08, 2017

LONDON (AP) — One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down. Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall.

A third man described the prisoners as growing accustomed to the sound of screaming. “It made us really scared the first day but then we got used to it because we heard screaming all the time.” Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current government. The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.

One by one, the men agreed to tell their stories to The Associated Press and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and groins photographed in July and August. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and conducted interviews with 20 men. The strangers say they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war. Although combat ended 8 years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July this year.

Sri Lankan authorities deny the allegations. Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator who has interviewed torture survivors for the past 40 years in the world’s most dire countries, says the sheer scale of brutality is nothing like he has heard before.

“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.” Most of the men say they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites. They said the majority of their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes. Some, however, said it appeared their captors and interrogators were soldiers based on the types of uniforms and insignia they were wearing. One man reported seeing army uniforms hanging on a clothes line and many of the men wearing army boots.

In an interview last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake denied the torture allegations. “The army was not involved — and as for that matter — I’m sure that police also were not involved,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to do that now.”

The Sri Lankan government minister in charge of the police agreed to an interview with the AP last month but did not follow through. Despite its denials that widespread torture still persists among its security forces, Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to investigate war crimes allegations stemming from its 26-year civil war.

That conflict was between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. The Tigers, as they were known, were designated as a terrorist organization after a wave of suicide bombings. The government’s forces, however, were also accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime under international law.

At the end of August, human rights groups in South America filed lawsuits against Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil and other South American nations. He is accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people at the end of the war. Other high ranking officials — often shielded by diplomatic immunity — have also been accused.

Upon the ambassador’s return to Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya the ambassador nor any other “war hero” would face prosecution for such allegations — a pledge that rights groups said illustrates the government’s refusal to investigate its own soldiers accused of war crimes.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s international profile is on the rise. In May, the European Union restored the special trade status that Sri Lanka lost in 2010 after the European Commission found that the country had failed to implement key international conventions. Sri Lanka is also paid to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions and was recently asked to sit on a U.N. leadership committee trying to combat sexual abuse. An AP investigation earlier this year found that 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers participated in a child sex ring in Haiti that persisted for three years — and no one was ever prosecuted.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, one of the U.N.’s top diplomats who has pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the AP’s accounts of the 52 tortured men. “While the U.N. is unable to confirm this until we mount an investigation, clearly the reports are horrifying and merit a much closer inspection from our part, especially if they occurred in 2016 and 2017,” said Zeid, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The International Truth and Justice Project has gathered testimony from more than 60 Sri Lankans across Europe — 52 of whom were part of the AP’s investigation. The group has been lobbying governments and international organizations to get justice for victims.

The non-governmental organization assigned the men witness numbers to protect their identities. The men agreed to share their stories on condition of anonymity out of fear that they or their families in Sri Lanka could face reprisals.

The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, but the government insisted in its interview with the AP that the rebel group is no longer a threat. Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes meant to symbolize the rebel group that fought against the Sinhalese-dominated government for an independent Tamil homeland. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.

Most of the men say they were sexually abused or raped, sometimes with sticks wrapped in barbed wire. Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka and rape carries a significant social stigma. Still, the victims said they felt obligated to tell their stories.

“I want the world to know what is happening in Sri Lanka,” a 22-year-old known as Witness #205 told the AP during an interview in July. “The war against Tamils hasn’t stopped.”

A ‘WHITE VAN’ ABDUCTION

Unlike most of the victims, Witness #249 admits to having been a member of the Tigers nearly a decade ago, joining up when their ranks had been depleted in the final stages of the war. He walks with a limp, caused when a piece of shrapnel left in his leg from a battle in which nine of his friends were blown up.

After the war, he returned to the family farm, helping his father. Last year, he married his high school sweetheart, and began collecting donations for victims of the war.

Soon after his wedding in 2016, he said, he was snatched off the streets, arriving at a torture room hours later.

“They heated up iron rods and burned my back with stripes,” he told the AP, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth. “On another occasion, they put chili powder in a bag and put the bag over my head until I passed out. They … raped me.”

His father eventually bribed the security officers to free him. He was hospitalized for 10 days after his release. Most of the men said their families paid an average bribe of 500,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (around $3,250) and up to $20,000 to be smuggled into Europe — hefty sums that sometimes forced their families to sell parcels of land.

Many of the other victims said they had never worked for the Tamil Tigers. But all told similar tales: they were abducted at home or off the streets by men in white or green vans, they were tortured for days or weeks or months, a family member often secured their release through a bribe, and they made their way to Europe using smugglers.

“I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye to my wife before I fled for England.”

Now, after all he has endured, Witness #249 relates to the tragic characters in the works of his beloved Shakespeare: broken and cursed.

Last year, Sri Lankan authorities were called to Geneva to testify before the U.N. Committee against Torture. When questioned about allegations of continued use of torture against suspects in police custody and impunity for alleged perpetrators, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya said the country’s constitution prohibited torture and that strengthening human rights was a cornerstone of its current agenda. He also said “strict action” would be taken against perpetrators of human rights violations.

But advocates say that hasn’t happened.

“Unless those responsible for these crimes are tackled head on and held accountable, this will not end,” said Frances Harrison, project manager for the International Truth and Justice Project.

Many Tamils contend that the government continues to target them as part of a larger plan to destroy their culture. Tamils, who speak a different language and are largely Hindu, unlike the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority, say they have been treated like second-class citizens.

More than 100,000 people were estimated to have died in the war, including at least up to 40,000 civilians in its final months, according to U.N. estimates. Sri Lankan authorities have denied targeting civilians and dispute the toll. Rights groups say both sides committed war crimes.

Witness #205, who reported that he was held for 21 days and tortured, said he was accused of belonging to the Tamil Tiger rebel group.

He, like the majority of the other victims, said one of his captors identified himself as a member of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department.

“These survivors are the walking wounded of an invisible war in which rape has become the ultimate covert weapon,” said Harrison.

SIXTY CIGARETTE BURNS

Many of the victims meet each week at a London church for English classes and counselling sessions.

In July, a new member of the group stepped forward revealing at least 60 cigarette burns on his legs and chest. At 19, he was the youngest victim of the group and trembled when speaking of his sexual abuse.

“What’s striking is that I’m seeing men who are younger and younger, meaning that they would have had very little to do with the war,” said Dr. Charmian Goldwyn, who has seen nearly 200 Tamils who say they were tortured. Some of the cases occurred before 2015 but she has also seen men who have described more recent abuse.

She assesses their mental and physical health and often testifies in their asylum hearings. She said the branding and scars often make it easier to prove torture for an asylum claim but it becomes more difficult to prove sexual abuse.

Gary Anandasangaree, a Tamil lawmaker in the Canadian government, said there is a large degree of distrust from asylum seekers who fear for the families they left behind. He said one group who sought asylum in Canada had telephone calls to their families intercepted. The families in Sri Lanka were then questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department, he said.

“The reports of recent torture are not surprising,” he said. “I heard similar stories on a visit last year.”

Though the men are relieved to be in Europe, asylum can take years, and even if granted it isn’t necessarily permanent. Britain, like many countries, is buckling under pressure from anti-immigration groups.

For a 34-year-old taxi driver known as Witness #199, the fear of being rejected for asylum is crippling.

In 2014 while still in Sri Lanka, he visited his wife in the hospital after she gave birth to a son. With the war behind him and a new life ahead, he was overjoyed to be starting a family in his homeland — where he finally felt safe.

“After leaving the hospital, a man standing next to a white van started calling my name,” he said. “I wasn’t scared at that point so I just got in.”

The men asked him to pay a bribe and when he told them he couldn’t, they released him on the condition he pay in two weeks, he said.

“My uncle said the men would keep coming back to ask for money so he advised that it would be best if I left the country.”

He fled to Switzerland, but was rejected for asylum eight months later.

Back home, he said, he was visiting friends when he was abducted again.

This time, he was held 23 days, branded with iron rods and raped after a group of men entered his cell and forced him to drink a bottle of alcohol, he said. Some forced him to perform oral sex on them and beat him when he refused. He lost consciousness. When he woke up, he was naked, covered in semen and bleeding from his rectum.

Seeing the bottle left in his cell, he broke it and tried to slash his wrists.

Two days later, he was released and made his way to the UK.

Within days of arriving and applying for asylum, he tried to kill himself again, this time by drinking bleach.

He hasn’t seen his baby boy since he was born.

THE TORTURE ROOM

Some have cast doubt on the men’s stories, saying that the marks could have been caused during the war or even that the men could have inflicted the injuries themselves to gain sympathy on asylum applications — an assertion that that medical and academic experts say is not credible.

Witness #203 said he was forced to join the Tigers as a child soldier at 16. He was studying to be a teacher when he found himself on the battlefield. For four months, he was tasked with collecting the body parts of fallen fighters killed in the extensive shelling soldiers so they could be buried.

Then, last year — seven years after the war ended — he said he was abducted in a white van and driven for two hours.

From his location, he believes he could have been taken to the notorious Joseph Camp, a military installation in the north of Sri Lanka that has been the source of numerous torture claims over the years.

For 11 days, he says men stripped him, touched his genitals and forced him to touch theirs. The 12th day was worse.

“I was put on a bench face down with my hands tied under it and my feet tied to it,” he told the AP.

After refusing to sign a confession written in Sinhalese, the majority’s language, he said his torturers threw a rag soaked in petrol into a bag and shoved the bag onto his head. He passed out. When he awoke he was in a torture room.

It was there that the soles of his feet were thrashed and his back was beaten with a metal pipe. His captors then heated up long metal rods so they could brand him with the marks of a tiger.

He was released on the 13th day after his father paid a bribe and found a Muslim trafficker to arrange for a fake passport for passage to the U.K. In the same month after he arrived, he tried to hang himself with a wire rope. More than a dozen of the victims have tried to kill themselves.

“From all of the beatings, especially on the soles of my feet, the pain had taken over. But what haunted me the most is all of the sexual torture that went on.”

Many of the men said they signed false confessions after the torture.

The road to recovery will be no easy journey for the men, admits Caroline Roemmele, who supervises some of their counselling.

A cocktail of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and pain medication brings comfort to some. Others find solace in telling their stories even though each word awakens memories of their traumas.

“It’s a long process,” said Roemmele. “But the human race wouldn’t have survived if we couldn’t survive trauma.”

Associated Press writer Katy Daigle contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lankan monk among 7 jailed for attack on Rohingya

October 02, 2017

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan authorities have arrested seven people, including at least one Buddhist monk, suspected of storming a United Nations safe house for Rohingya Muslim refugees last week.

Monk Akmeenmana Dayaratana and another suspect were arrested Monday and ordered to remain behind bars until at least Oct. 9, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. He said the other five suspects were arrested and remanded over the weekend.

They are accused of being among dozens of protesters from Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist community, including monks, who stormed a safe house on the outskirts of Colombo where 31 Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar, including 17 children, had been living since arriving in the country in April. The monks claimed the refugees were terrorists and demanded they be returned to Myanmar, prompting police to move the refugees to another location.

Video posted on Facebook by a nationalist group, the Sinhala National Movement, shows protesters calling Rohingya “terrorists who killed Buddhists in Myanmar” and saying that they can’t live in Sri Lanka.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a news release that it was alarmed by the attack. Sri Lankan government leaders also condemned it, describing it as a “shameful act,” and calling for strong action against the perpetrators.

Sri Lanka Buddhists make up 70 percent of the island’s 20 million people, while Muslims account for 10 percent. More than half-a-million Rohingya have fled from the region to Bangladesh in just over a month, making it the largest refugee crisis to hit Asia in decades. The latest violence began when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks on security posts Aug. 25, prompting Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations.”

Rohingya have long faced persecution and discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where the government denies them citizenship and considers them illegal immigrants. Extremist Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have ties with their counterparts in Myanmar and monks in both countries have been accused of leading attacks on minority Muslims.

Sri Lanka refuse Chinese submarine docking: official

Colombo (AFP)

May 11, 2017

Sri Lanka refused permission for a Chinese submarine to dock at Colombo next week after a similar visit in 2014 angered regional super-power India, a top defense official said Thursday.

Chinese authorities had sought clearance for a port call at Colombo where a Chinese state-owned company operates a mega container terminal, the official said asking not to be named.

“They have asked for permission, but we have said no,” the official told AFP. “It is a very sensitive matter.” He did not elaborate.

The rejection came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting Sri Lanka as chief guest of Vesak, the island’s main Buddhist celebration making the birth, enlightenment and the passing of the Buddha.

The request for the Chinese submarine visit was for next week, after Modi’s departure on Friday evening, official sources said.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in Colombo, but two submarine calls at the Colombo harbor in 2014 had reportedly angered India which considered it as undermining their security.

New Delhi traditionally regards its smaller neighbor as being within its sphere of influence. New Delhi is said to have been worried about Beijing’s growing influence on Colombo under the former regime of strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015 promising to loosen ties with China after a decade of hefty funding by Beijing under his predecessor.

However, analysts have noted that Beijing’s influence was on the rise again as Colombo struggles to find alternative sources of much needed foreign capital.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Sri_Lanka_refuse_Chinese_submarine_docking_official_999.html.

Dozens still missing in Sri Lankan garbage collapse; 29 dead

April 17, 2017

MEETOTAMULLA, Sri Lanka (AP) — Rescuers were digging Monday through heaps of mud and trash that collapsed onto a clutch of homes near a Sri Lankan garbage dump, killing at least 29 people and possibly burying dozens more.

Hundreds had been living in the working-class neighborhood on the fringe of the towering dump in Meetotamulla, a town outside of Colombo, when a huge mound collapsed Friday night during a local new year celebration, damaging at least 150 homes.

By Monday morning, authorities had pulled 29 bodies from beneath the debris, according to lawyer Nuwan Bopage, who has worked with locals to protest the dump. Authorities were unsure how many more could still be trapped, but about 30 people were still reported missing, Bopage said.

Soldiers were digging with backhoes and shovels, as relatives of the missing pointed out where their houses once stood amid coconut, mango and banana trees. Those homes now lay in piles of collapsed concrete walls encased in a wall of mud up to 25 feet (8 meters) high and mixed with plastic bags, broken glass and other trash. Bicycles and auto-rickshaws, the three-wheeled vehicles used as local taxis, were crushed or lying topsy-turvy.

Rasika Sanjeewa, 41, his wife, two sons and a daughter had a narrow escape. Just as he stopped his auto-rickshaw and he and his family stepped to the ground, his daughter said the ground seemed to be moving beneath her feet.

“There was a strong wind from the side of the dump and my daughter shouted the mound is splitting. Suddenly one slice of the mound came crashing down. The whole area was shaking,” Sanjeewa told The Associated Press on Monday.

Debris blocked their way but they waited and eventually found their way out. Sanjeewa’s family had been heading to their friends’ home to celebrate the new year. The home was buried and their friends, a mother and daughter who worked as laborers in the area, had died, Sanjeewa said.

The prime minister over the weekend vowed to shut down the dump, which has absorbed much of Colombo’s garbage for several years as much of the capital has undergone extensive renovations. As the garbage piled up, the growing mound began threatening the tiny homes nearby, prompting residents to stage regular protests while complaining of health hazards.

“These people did not choose to live next to a dump. But they brought the garbage in and made this place horrible,” said rickshaw driver Dilip Mirmal, 34, whose home was spared while those surrounding were completely subsumed, killing 23 of his neighbors.

“This is a government-made disaster,” he said. “I have a mix of feelings, of anger, frustration and sorrow. We have been trying to protest and raise these issues, but no one was listening.” Another 11 people injured in the garbage collapse were being treated in a hospital.

Hundreds protest as Sri Lanka launches Chinese industrial zone

07 January 2017 Saturday

Sri Lanka police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of people protesting the launch Saturday of a special industrial zone in the island’s south that hopes to attract billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

Protesters pelted government supporters with stones and police retaliated with teargas and water cannon at the launch, which was also attended by the prime minister and the Chinese ambassador, a police official told AFP.

Authorities said about 25 people were hurt in the skirmishes, including 12 police.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and ambassador Yi Xianliang said the zone in Hambantota, 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Colombo, will generate thousands of jobs and bring in about $5 billion in Chinese investment.

But residents are afraid they will loose their land to the project, which is situated adjacent to a loss-making $1.4 billion harbor that Colombo hopes to turn into a joint venture with a Chinese company.

The port has already proved controversial in itself with hundreds of temporary dock workers going on strike in December demanding that they be absorbed into the main port-owning company ahead of any sale to the Chinese.

The government denies residents will lose any land to the new industrial zone, saying 95 percent of the area allocated for the project is state-owned and the remainder will be bought from private owners. They say there will be no forced acquisitions.

“In the next two to five years, if everything is OK, there will be about $5 billion of (Chinese) investments in this zone,” ambassador Yi said at the launch, adding that 100,000 jobs could be created.

“The Hambantota port was going to sink us (Sri Lanka), but we are now trying to leverage it to create new economic activity and boost growth,” Wickremesinghe said.

The government, which came to power in 2015, has been trying to renegotiate the terms of its $8-billion Chinese debt, which includes the construction costs of the Hambantota port as well as a nearby international airport which is used by only one airline.

The former administration relied heavily on China to build ports, highways and railways as Western nations shunned it over its dismal human rights record.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/182812/hundreds-protest-as-sri-lanka-launches-chinese-industrial-zone.

Sri Lanka to replace its ageing fighter jets

Colombo (AFP)

Aug 10, 2016

Sri Lanka Wednesday announced plans to replace its ageing jet fighters to better defend its maritime borders including rich fishing grounds, seven years after the island’s separatist war ended.

Cabinet approved President Maithripala Sirisena’s proposal to call for expressions of interest from global manufacturers to sell Sri Lanka the jets, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.

“The idea is to buy eight multi-role fighter aircraft with associated weapons on a government-to-government basis,” Senaratne, who is also a cabinet minister, told reporters.

Sri Lanka’s fleet of Chinese-made F-7, Soviet-era MiG-27 and Israeli Kfir aircraft are about 30 years old and have become obsolete, according to experts.

Sri Lanka used both the MiG-27 and Kfir jets to bomb rebel targets in the north at the height of the Tamil separatist war which ended in May 2009.

The country lost large numbers of aircraft during the decades-long fighting.

The main role of the new fleet would be to defend the island’s exclusive economic zone which stretches some 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) offshore, senior sources in the government said.

Both neighboring India and its rival Pakistan are keen to sell combat aircraft to the island, they said.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Sri_Lanka_to_replace_its_ageing_fighter_jets_999.html.

Pakistan seeks closer military ties with Sri Lanka

Colombo (AFP)

Jan 5, 2016

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Tuesday for closer military cooperation with Sri Lanka on an official visit to the island.

Pakistan was a key supplier of arms and aircraft for Sri Lanka’s military in their battle against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war that ended in May 2009.

In talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sharif also expressed a desire for more naval exchanges.

“I conveyed our desire for more frequent port calls, participation in military exercises and defense seminars and training of military personnel,” Pakistan’s leader said in a statement following an official welcoming ceremony.

Sharif held talks with Wickremesinghe soon after his arrival on Monday and is due to fly back Wednesday after visiting the Buddhist pilgrim city of Kandy.

Sri Lanka sends its military officers for higher training to both Pakistan and its arch-rival India as well as to several other countries, including the United States and China.

The island’s closest neighbor India withheld arms and ammunition during the height of Colombo’s war with Tamil rebels, who have close cultural and religious links with the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Sharif said he was also keen to expand trade with Sri Lanka and was eager to invest in its sugar and cement industries.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pakistan_seeks_closer_military_ties_with_Sri_Lanka_999.html.

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