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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
On 1 June 1999, Amnesty International released yet another report (AI Index: ASA 37/10/99) on torture in Sri Lanka - this time entitled 'Sri Lanka. Torture in Custody'.
However, Sri Lanka's torture of Tamil prisoners in custody is not something new. A quick tour of the record (by clicking on the 'Licensed to Torture' icon on this page and then on each page so visited) will prove that during the past twenty years and more, torture has been carried out in a systematic, deliberate and sustained manner by the Sri Lanka authorities. And, notwithstanding earnest appeals by organisations such as Amnesty, 'business has gone on, very much as usual'. Sri Lanka's 'culture of torture' has deep roots. The resort to torture by the Sri Lanka security forces is a logical extension of the methods used by Sinhala political leaders (and their goon squads) to stifle Tamil resistance from the Satyagraha days of non violent resistance in 1956, 1958 and 1961. The short point that emerges from the 20 year proven record of torture by the Sri Lanka authorities is that Sri Lanka cannot impose its rule on the Tamil homeland without recourse to terror. If it could, it would have.
Amnesty's latest report declares:
"Torture by the security forces is reported almost daily in the context of their ongoing armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are fighting for an independent state, Eelam, in the north and east....
In spite of existing legal safeguards, torture continues to be committed with relative impunity. Only a handful of cases against police officers are reportedly pending in the courts, and so far no one has been convicted for torture...
In May 1998, Sri Lanka appeared for the first time before the United Nations (UN) Committee against Torture. The government acknowledged that torture was a problem in the country and pledged that "every effort would be made" to put into effect the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee. But this commitment has yet to be put into practice.
Routine torture methods outlined in the report include near-suffocation by either "dry submarino" -- pulling a shopping bag containing chillies and/or petrol over the head and tying it to the base of the neck, or "wet submarino" -- lowering someone into a water tub or well. Many detainees report being beaten with cricket bats, PVC pipes filled with sand or concrete, being burnt with lighted cigarettes and given electric shock treatment. Extreme forms of torture include burning with melted polythene, drilling into feet, inserting nails into feet or other parts of the body and rape of female detainees.
In northern Sri Lanka, most torture allegations are directed against members of the army, while the navy has also been implicated. In the east, members of the army, Special Task Force (STF) and police have been responsible for torture. Members of several armed groups fighting alongside the security forces against the LTTE , including the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), and "Razeek group", have also been named as perpetrators...
The arrest and torture of children by security forces is not common, but several chilling reports have emerged of young Tamil children being tortured in custody on suspicion of being LTTE members or to force family members to hand themselves over.
Rape committed during armed conflict constitutes an act of torture and is clearly prohibited by the rules of war and by international human rights law. However, despite Sri Lanka's legal provisions designed to protect women in custody, a number of rapes by members of the security forces are reported every year, particularly in the north and east. Given the cultural and religious context, it is thought that many cases of rape go unreported.
Apart from the current impunity for torturers, other reasons for its prevalence include the security forces' wide powers to detain people long-term without having to bring them before a judicial authority, Sri Lanka's lack of legal standards setting out minimum detention conditions, the failure to enforce existing legal safeguards, the lack of an investigative body independent of the police, as well as the continuing use of unauthorized places of detention...."
The specific instances of torture detailed in the Amnesty Report include the following:
Gopalaratnam Thananjeyan (30)
originally from Nallur, Jaffna but living at Bloemendahl Flats, Colombo 13 since 1989 was arrested on 22 August 1998 around 5.30am. He was taken to the Peliyagoda police station. On arrival, police officers took him to a room on the first floor, where he was tortured for about 4 hours. He was made to lie on a table and beaten all over his body. The police officers tied his hands behind his legs and subsequently suspended him from a pipe passed under his knees. While hanging in this position, he was beaten on the soles of his feet and on his legs and back. He was also hung unpside down by his toes.
As a result of the torture, he vomited repeatedly. After this, he was put inside a cell. Around 7pm, he was taken before an assistant superintendent of police (ASP). In his presence, he vomited again. The ASP then ordered for him to be taken to the hospital. At Colombo General Hospital, he received treatment. He had visible scars of beatings all over his body (criss-cross lines). He also complained of pain in his hands and feet. He stayed in the hospital until the morning of 24 August, when he was taken back to the Peliyagoda police station. He was released on bail in early January 1999 and is currently awaiting charges.
a 48-year-old tutor, was arrested in early March 1997 on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE. He was beaten with a broomstick at Slave Island police station in Colombo during the first eight days of his detention. His testicles became inflamed after he had been trampled and kicked, and needed to be surgically removed. In July 1998, the Supreme Court awarded him 100,000 Rupees compensation.
an upcountry Tamil and member of the Socialist Equality Party, was arrested on 12 June 1998 by the Hatton police. He was taken to the Kandy police station. Three named officers, including a sergeant and two sub-inspectors, hung him upside down and beat him all over his body. He was also taken to the superintendent of police's office across the road, where the sergeant put his genitals inside a drawer of a table and closed the drawer causing acute pain and injury to his testicles. After his transfer to the Security Coordination Division (SCD) at 32, Malalasekera Mawatha in Colombo, he was taken to the Judicial Medical Officer's (JMO) office, where he was examined by an additional JMO. However, he continued to be tortured after his return to the SCD. On 9 July, he had to be admitted to hospital as he was unable to walk and had acute pain in his head. He claims that as a result of torture, he is impotent, has constant headache, numbness in the left arm, and constant pain in and around the waist. A petition seeking compensation for the violation of his fundamental right not to be tortured is currently before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
was tortured by police at Cinnamon Gardens police station, Colombo after her arrest on 26 November 1997. In June 1998, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka awarded her Rupees 10,000 compensation. According to the report of the JMO submitted to the court, she had seven injuries on her body which were consistent with her allegation that she was hit with a PVC pipe of approximately 2cm thick and with sticks. T Ranjani spent 22 days in detention at Cinnamon Gardens police station.
In October 1997, the JMO in Colombo who examined Sinnarasa Anthonymala, a girl from Jaffna who had been arrested by the navy in July 1995 when she was 15 years old, found evidence of 46 wounds on her body. When Amnesty International interviewed Anthonymala during a visit to Sri Lanka in 1996, she explained how she was held naked and taken for interrogation by the navy up to three times per day throughout the period of her stay at the Kankesanthurai navy camp. She was tortured by being hung upside down and beaten on her legs, burnt with cigarettes, given electric shocks and burnt with heated metal rods. After she was transferred to the custody of the CID in Colombo, she was further tortured including by being cut in the back of the neck, hit in the mouth and on the legs with a piece of wood. The JMO in his report of 20 November 1997 to the High Court found “all scars [to be] over 6 months old and consistent with those of healed injuries sustained in 1995".
In Batticaloa district, members of the “Razeek Group” (see above) on 8 June 1997 took Periyathamby Subramaniam into custody at their camp. According to the JMO report of 29 September 1998 submitted to the Supreme Court, he showed injuries consistent with his allegations of being tortured at the camp run by the “Razeek group”, at Patpodi army camp and at the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU) of the police in Batticaloa. The many scars noted by the JMO included burn scars, abrasions, lascerations and incised wounds.
The allegations of torture at the “Razeek group” camp include beatings with wooden rod, burning of penis with a cigarette butt, near -suffocation with a shopping bag containing chilli powder and petrol, pricks with pins on his body and stabbing with knife on his shoulder. At Patpodi army camp, among other methods of torture, melted polythene wax was poured on his legs and one of the nails of his fingers was removed with a set of pliers. At the time of writing, the fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court was pending and Periyathamby Subramaniam was facing trial before the Batticaloa High Court under the PTA.
One horrendous account of multiple torture at Thavady army camp, Kondavil, Jaffna in January 1997 further underlines the heightened risk of torture and killing in custody at unauthorized places of detention. Thirty five young men and women were taken into custody during a round-up by the army from Manipay camp around 5am on 2 January 1997. They were held at a small army camp at Thavady while being questioned about their identity.
On the third day of their detention, the bodies of three soldiers killed in an ambush by the LTTE near Inuvil temple were brought to the camp. According to the testimony of one of the detainees, the other soldiers then suddenly started beating the detainees with poles, cricket bats and electric wire. The eight or nine women detainees were blindfolded and their hands were tied together. The soldiers then twisted the women's nipples with pliers, forcing the boys to watch. The same plyers were used to squeeze the genitals of the male detainees. Plastic bags filled with petrol and ants were pulled over the heads of the male detainees; the women were treated similarly although no ants were put in the plastic bags used on them.
On the fourth day of their detention, the detainees were transferred to Manipay army camp. One or two of them complained to the commanding officer about the torture. Later that night, the soldiers came and beat them again. At Manipay army camp, which is also an unauthorized place of detention, the 35 detainees were put with other detainees already in the camp; men and women were separated.
One male detainee told Amnesty International how he was hung upside down by his toes and made to inhale chilli fumes that were being burned under the ropes. He claimed that sixteen detainees were being hung at the same time by nylon ropes suspended from a girder in the room. They were all beaten with S-lon (PVC) pipes and wire. Electric shocks were being administered from a car or motorcycle dynamo in the room. He thought their ordeal lasted for more than an hour, but because he had fainted, he said he could not be sure. Later that day, he was taken to a well in the camp and lowered into it by a rope which had been attached to his big toe by a hook normally used to perform Hindu rituals. He fainted again. To check he was conscious, soldiers cut his arm with a razor blade.
In the morning of the next day, he could not get up due to pain all over his body and injuries to his feet. One soldier then came with a plank with a nail sticking out of it and knocked the nail into his foot. He removed the detainee's handcuffs and told him to put his hands on the floor. A second soldier held his hands while the first soldier hit the plank with the nail into his right hand with a pestle. The nail broke and remained lodged in his hand throughout his detention. The detainee maintained that at least three other detainees were treated in the same way. He also claimed he saw at least ten detainees who had signs of having been burnt with a heated rod on their back.
At the time of his interview with Amnesty International in September 1998, this young man continues to suffer from headaches, back ache, recurring nightmares, pain in his heel, non-use of two fingers in his right hand and bad eyesight. He had the nail removed from his hand in August 1998, approximately one year after he was released.
from Valaichenai, Batticaloa district stated in a fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court that he was taken there on 3 April 1997 and held till 5 April, when he was handed over to the CDB. At the tower, he alleges he was stripped naked, had a shopping bag containing petrol and chilli powder pulled over his head and tied to his neck, was beaten with PVC pipes filled with concrete and with broken legs of tables and chairs. He also claims that when he refused to confess to being a member of the LTTE, his hands were tied behind his back and he was hung from the hook of a fan on the ceiling by a nylon thread tied to his thumbs.
Thereafter he was blindfolded, electricity was passed through his body and a drill was used on one of his heels. He was also burnt with lighted cigarettes and cut with a knife on his buttocks. On another occasion, he was dashed against a wall and as a result lost one of his teeth in the upper jaw. He was also beaten on his ears and on his penis. A doctor at Nagoda government hospital has reportedly recommended surgery to his penis, but at the time of filing the petition in October 1998, the authorities at Kalutara prison where Kanapathipillai Sasikumar was held had not acted on this recommendation. "