Sri Lanka continues to use Rape as a Weapon of Terror

Place: Tamil Eelam | Courtesy: Sams
| Date: 19971123

"Observers say that the Sri Lankan government's programme of winning the "hearts and minds" of the Tamil people in the occupied Northern peninsula is in serious trouble as the Sri Lankan military continues to use rape as a weapon of terror.

Hundreds of Tamil women have been raped by the members of the Sri Lankan military behind an iron curtain of strict ban on reporters and independent observers. Some of these crimes, especially those in which the victims had friends and relatives in foreign countries have come to light.

Rajani Velauthapillai, 22, was raped and murdered by the Sri Lankan military manning a checkpoint at Kondavil, a village near the Jaffna city. Rajani's fiance lives in Canada and she was to join him in a few weeks. As per traditions, she was visiting family elders to bid farewell and to obtain their blessings before leaving for Canada. On Sep 30, 1996 at about 3:30 PM, Rajani was arrested by the SL soldiers manning the Kondavil checkpoint for no apparent reasons. Several people had witnessed her arrest. Rajani was then dragged into a nearby house inhabited by two elderly people. The soldiers chased the two occupants out of the house. They then gang-raped Rajani and murdered her. Her bruised naked body was found later in the toilet of the empty house.

Raping of young women by the Sri Lankan military is not confined to the Northern province. In the Eastern town of Batticaloa, another gruesome rape and murder of a Tamil mother, Murugesapillai Koneswary, got the attention of Amnesty International, which sent an Urgent Action Appeal to President Kumaratunga, calling for an independent investigation into the rape and murder.

According to villagers, on May 17, 1997 around 11 p.m., a group of Sri Lankan policemen entered her home, gang raped her and exploded a hand grenade near her genital to destroy any evidence. Their gruesome tactic worked. Medical Officer L. D. D. C. Alwis, who conducted the autopsy, concluded that the offenders could not be determined due to the hand grenade blast wounds. The notorious Central Camp police also ensured that no witnesses would come forward to testify. Neighbors fear for life of Koneswari's little girl who was also an eye witness to the barbaric crime.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered an inquiry following protests by the Eastern district member of parliament, Mr. Joseph Pararasasingam. Human rights activists say they don't even know who is conducting the investigation. The recently established Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) was asked to investigate the murder. However the task force said that the incident does not fall within its jurisdiction and so no support or assistance could be lent.

The rapes and subsequent cover-ups outrage human rights organization. In a letter to President Kumaratunga, Mothers' Front of Jaffna wrote, "reprisals by the security forces against civilians and their property have now become a common feature. Tamil women in the north and east are no longer able to live with self-respect and dignity. Normal life in these parts of the country is severely hampered, as law-abiding citizens are prevented from going about their day-to-day life."

The Centre for Women's Research in Sri Lanka (CENWOR) also protested the rape. It asked the Sri Lankan president "how can national and international credibility be acquired when this type of grave crime is committed by members of the armed forces against defenseless women." The group organized a protest march in Colombo.

Analysts blame the military solution undertaken by the present Sri Lankan government for the grave human rights violations. The fact that the government tolerates the brutal acts of the army in order to defeat the rebels in the battlefield worries human rights activists. They say that numerous cases of disappearances and rapes of Tamil civilians by the army are unreported because of media censorship in the north and east of the island. Some of the armed forces who were charged with committing atrocities have had their cases dropped in return for a promise to serve in the Vanni battlefield.

The Tamils are fighting for a homeland in the north and east of the island nation, claiming that they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, who control the government and military. More than 78,000 people, mostly Tamil civilians have been killed in the conflict. (Chennai, Nov 23, 1997 South Asian Media Services - SAMS)