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British Refugee Council on Rape in custody
BRC Sri Lanka Monitor January 2002
Under international law, rape committed by government officials or armed political groups during armed conflict constitutes torture.
In a landmark judgment, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court awarded Rs 150,000 ($1,560) as compensation to Velu Arshadevi on 25 January for rape in custody of the Sri Lankan security forces. Ms Arshadevi, a Tamil woman from Badulla in the Hill Country was gang-raped at a security force checkpoint in Colombo on 24 June 2001.
Amnesty International says that this is the first time that the court has awarded compensation to a rape victim, confirming that rape in custody constitutes torture. Amnesty has urged the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that the criminal prosecution of the three soldiers and three policemen, currently released on bail, will proceed without delay.
In a January report titled Sri Lanka: Rape in custody, the agency says that during 2001, Sri Lanka saw a marked increase in allegations of rape in custody, particularly by the Army, Navy and the police. Among the victims of rape by the security forces are many internally displaced women, women who admit being or having been members of the LTTE and female relatives of members or suspected male members of the LTTE. Some reports of rape in custody concern children as young as 14.
Thangiah Vijayalalitha, a 14 year-old Tamil girl was sexually assaulted by more than ten Navy personnel on 20 April 2001, when she was taken into custody during an LTTE operation in the open sea. She is currently held without charge or trial at Welikada women’s prison in Colombo.
According to the Amnesty report, complaints of rape, like other complaints of torture, are often not effectively dealt with by police, magistrates or doctors. Deficiencies in the early stages of the criminal investigation process have repeatedly contributed to the ultimate collapse of the investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators.
After the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women expressed grave concern over the lack of serious investigation into allegations of rape, the Sri Lankan government stated that every case of alleged criminal conduct committed by the armed forces and police has been investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted, although there may have been unavoidable legal delays. Amnesty says, contrary to the government's assertion, not a single member of the security forces has been brought to trial in connection to incidents of rape in custody, although one successful prosecution has been brought in the Krishanthy Kumarasamy case where the victim of rape was also murdered.
The most important reason for the lack of successful prosecution is that those responsible for the investigation are colleagues of the alleged perpetrators. Amnesty points out the following among other reasons: threats by perpetrators against the victim and witnesses, inadequate medical evidence due to poor quality of initial medical examination, lack of independence of the investigating authority, slow action by police to investigate, political pressure on investigators, victim withdraws case in the context of stigma associated with rape, transfer of cases to a court a long distance away from the victim's home and police fears to act against armed force perpetrators.
According to the election manifesto, the main constituent of the new government, the United National Party (UNP), has pledged to ‘enact laws relating to the Women’s Charter to safeguard women’s rights’ and to ‘ensure that women’s particular requirements and gender-specific concerns are recognized and prioritized in the formulation of state policies’.
Amnesty International welcomes several measures taken earlier, including changes in the Penal Code, to prevent rape and to hold those responsible accountable, but insists that further steps are necessary to ensure change on the ground. The government should set up an investigative body, fully independent of the police, with the necessary powers and expertise required to open criminal investigations, whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture, including rape, has been committed.
Amnesty also says that the government should send a clear, public message to all security force personnel emphasizing that rape in custody constitutes torture and that perpetrators will be brought to justice. The government has further been urged to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, to offer women direct means to seek redress at international level.
The government should introduce effective measures to prevent rape and make them legally enforceable, with adequate punishment for non-adherence. The Human Rights Commission or the Women’s Committee should assess the practice of confinement of women in police stations and other detention centres. Amnesty has also recommended the review of the role of the medical profession for effective examination of rape victims, and the role of magistrates.
In a letter to the new Defence minister Tilak Marapane, the All Ceylon Public Employees Front says six armed men abducted two married Tamil women at Attalaichenai in Amparai District in early January and raped them. The two sisters who are from Mandur in Batticaloa had gone to Attalaichenai to work in rice fields. Local MP Ariyanayagam Chandranehru says police have taken no action to apprehend the perpetrators.