Tamil political detainees in Sri Lanka abused and tortured in custody, says report

As many as 15 Tamil political prisoners have testified to torture and sexual abuse by the Sri Lankan security forces. The revelations were part of a report released by the International Trust and Justice Project

September 14, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Sri Lanka Tamils tortured
(Photo: Tamil Guardian)

A report compiled by the International Trust and Justice Project (ITJP) highlighted cases of “rape, torture and abduction” of Tamil political prisoners under the rule of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The report documents cases of alleged abuse against people from the minority Tamil population. As many as 15 Tamils have testified to torture and sexual abuse by security forces in the 95-page report.

The report was released days before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting which began on Monday, September 13 where United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet gave an oral update on the situation in the country.

Those interviewed for the report alleged that government forces subjected them to torture and gang rapes. Some of the victims accused the security forces of “burning, beating and asphyxiation” and claimed that some army officers, along with the counter terrorism police unit, used “hot metal rods, asphyxiated them with petrol-soaked polythene bags, half drowned and then gang raped them.” 

The report documents cases of individuals who fled from Sri Lanka to the UK after experiencing state repression. Authorities have accused many of them of being former members of the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, most of them are below the age of 25 and were only children when the ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009. As per the report, none of the victims were formally charged with crimes prior to or at the time of their detention. 

The report cites the example of 21-year-old Chandran Vidhushan, who was arrested by the police from Batticaloa and assaulted in front of his family before being taken away. The report states that the family was later informed that their son had died in custody. “The district police produced a post mortem report to the courts confirming that the victim died due to swallowing packets containing ice, which is a form of the drug Methamphetamine. However, the family rejected the official version and accused the police of torturing him to death,” the report adds.

As per rights groups, Tamils in north east Sri Lanka continue to face arrests for commemorating those who died during the civil war. “The day after the November 2020 commemoration in the Tamil regions, dozens were arrested for sharing their thoughts on social media about the dead,” the report says.

In the eastern district of Batticaloa, 19 people were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), while police investigations were launched against 55 others for their social media posts. “Freelance journalist M. Kokulathasan was arrested on 28 November 2020 under the PTA in connection with a facebook post, and is still held in prison,” the report adds.

Similarly, “10 people were taken into custody under the PTA for lighting a flame and holding a memorial, lasting no more than a few minutes. Nearly four months later, they remain in prison,” as per the report.

In May this year, following commemorations held in Tamil-majority regions to mark the 12th anniversary of the end of the civil war, “police counter terrorism units arrested some who held private memorials.”

On July 2, police in the eastern port city of Trincomalee arrested 24-year-old Shanmugarasa Vidulashan under the PTA for a post he had shared on his social media three years ago. “The specific post, which is about the Tamil struggle, popped up as a ‘memory post’ on his timeline, triggering his arrest,” the report says.

The ITJP has recommended in the report that the international community “apply targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans on perpetrators of human rights abuses as well as applying stringent vetting procedures for Sri Lankan police and military personnel for military exchanges and training programmes.” 

Five Tamil parties also wrote to Michelle Bachelet on September 13 to raise the issue of human rights violations taking place in Tamil-dominated areas of Sri Lanka, such as “disappearance of thousands of Tamils including minors, harassment and intimidation of peaceful protesters, the issue of land grabs, and prevention for remembering the War Dead.”

At the UNHRC meeting, Michelle Bachelet raised concerns on Sri Lanka’s rights accountability, according to the Press Trust of India. Responding to these remarks Sri Lanka’s foreign minister reportedly opposed UNHRC initiatives through a recent resolution, saying they would polarize the country. In the resolution in March, the council urged Sri Lanka to “ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for long-standing emblematic cases.”