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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Indictment against Sri Lanka - Introduction & Table of ContentsRape & Murder of Eelam Tamil Women: Sri Lanka State Terrorism - the Record Speaks.... > The empty rhetoric of women�s rights in Sri Lanka  > Sri Lanka's Genocidal War '95 to '01

Sri Lanka State Terrorism
Rape & Murder of Eelam Tamil Women

The empty rhetoric of women�s rights

Vidya Cumaraswamy, Tamil Guardian
23 April 2003

There is a vast distance between the policy and practice of women's rights in Sri Lanka.

It is almost exactly two years since the rape and torture of Ms Sivamani Weerakon and Wijikala Nanthakumar in Sri Lankan military custody. Both women were stripped and attacked by members of the Counter Subversive Unit (CSU). Despite the passage of considerable time, the Sri Lankan justice system has failed to prosecute or even indict the men accused of raping and torturing the two Tamil women. The failure of the state to act and the attendant failure of the burgeoning human rights and women's rights community in Sri Lanka to apply the necessary pressure speaks volumes about the about the distance between rhetoric and reality that is at the root of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

The incident, which would not have come to light if not for the tenacious efforts of a single journalist, sparked widespread protests in the Tamil areas but was completely ignored in other parts of the island. The second anniversary has now passed without comment and whilst the perpetrators have not been brought to justice, Sivamani continues to suffer. She has been forced to move to a remote refugee settlement to evade the harassment of army and police personnel loyal to their accused colleagues in the CSU. The singular lack of concern has at least two important implications; the first is that rape, per se, is not treated as a serious crime in practice and, second, that Sri Lanka' state machinery discriminates in the way that it dispenses justice.

A cursory comparison between the progress made in this case and that of the rape and murder of Shoamalai Uma Devi in December 2001 is telling. In the second case a special unit was set up to investigate the rape and murder leading to the arrest of eight suspects. It was recently reported that the Sub Inspector in charge of the case has requested that DNA samples be taken from the suspects as part of the investigations.

The obvious differences do not require elaboration but it is worth wondering whether anyone even bothered to take semen samples from Sivamani and Wijikala following their assaults. Such disparities in the commitment with which the state investigates allegations of rape indicate very clearly that the rape of Tamil women by security forces personnel is not as serious a crime as that of rape of women by civilians. The indifference and lethargy that surrounds the cases of Sivamani and Wijayakala, and the campaign by various Sinhalese nationalists on behalf of the accused can only be interpreted as meaning that the Sri Lankan state, and the wider Sinhala polity, despite a rhetorical commitment women's rights in particular do not grant these rights to Tamil women attacked by Sinhala troops.

If the state and the popular culture in which it exists do not accept that all women are equally deserving of the protection of the law, then discrimination in the dispensation of justice will not be problematic. One of the simplest but most critical ways in which the Sri Lankan state can justify the legitimacy it so confidently claims amongst the Tamil populace is to be blind in its administration of justice - especially when the perpetrators of violations are from the state's own security forces.

Furthermore, it is only by rigorously investigating and prosecuting cases such as the rape and torture of two Tamil women in the war zones that the Sri Lankan state can prove its much-vaunted commitment to human rights in general and women's rights in particular. The continued failure of the Sri Lanka's state machinery to implement and adopt the procedures and attitudes implied by the rhetorical commitment to women's rights, exposes the commitment as just that - empty rhetoric.


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