Amnesty slams zero prosecutions for rape in military custody

[TamilNet, Monday, 28 January 2002, 12:48 GMT]
Complaints of rape in custody by army, police and navy officials increased markedly in Sri Lanka last year, Amnesty International said in a new report published Monday. Amnesty said rapes in the context of armed conflict "are now recognized as a war crime and, when committed on a systematic basis or large scale, a crime against humanity."

The London-based organisation urged the new United National Front government to honour pledges made in its election manifesto with regards to the rights of women, while - in a separate statement Monday - hailing as a "landmark judgement" the decision of the Supreme Court to award compensation to a Tamil woman who was raped by six military personnel - who are however yet to be prosecuted for the attack in Colomboin June 2001.

Velu Arshadevi was on January 25 granted Rs. 150,000 by the Supreme Court as compensation for the attack by three soldiers and three police officers who have been bailed.

"This is a landmark judgement. It is the first time that the court has awarded compensation to a rape victim, confirming that rape in custody constitutes torture," Amnesty International said in a statement on the ruling. "If [the case] were to go to trial, it would set another precedent, constituting the first prosecution of members of the security forces in relation to rape in custody."

amnestylogo.gif"During 2001, Sri Lanka saw a marked increase in allegations of rape in custody, particularly by the army, police and navy. Most incidents have occurred in the context of the conflict between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers," Amnesty said in its report.

"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," Amnesty said.

The organization said it has evidence of cases where women in custody were blindfolded, beaten, had their clothes forcibly removed and were raped. "Some reports of rape in custody concern children as young as 14."

While welcoming several measures, including the introduction of tough prison sentences for those committing rape in custody and gang rape, Amnesty International is urging the authorities to take additional measures for the prevention of rape in custody and the proper investigation of alleged incidents.

"However, despite these initiatives, the fact remains that to date no one has been found guilty by a court of law in relation to charges of torture or rape in custody in Sri Lanka," Amnesty said. "Not a single member of the security forces has ever been found guilty of rape in custody." However, one successful prosecution has been brought in a case where the victim of rape was also murdered, it said.

In the 16-page document, Amnesty International sets out the reasons why the role of the police, magistrates and doctors in the early stages of criminal investigations should be reviewed to ensure that evidence is safeguarded and chances for a successful prosecution increased.

The organisation protested the lack of progress in investigations. Alarmed at the apparent rise in reports of rape, Amnesty International on 4 April 2001 wrote to the President of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, urging her to take action to stop rape by security forces and bring perpetrators to justice.

"To date, no response has been received to the appeal," Amnesty noted, adding that the appeal followed reports of rape by security forces in Mannar, Batticaloa, Negombo and Jaffna,.

In a similar vein, in March 2000, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, who herself is a Sri Lankan national, expressed grave concern over the lack of serious investigation into allegations of gang rape and murder of women and girls.

Amnesty noted that in its response, the 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".

"Contrary to the government's assertion, to Amnesty International's knowledge, not a single member of the security forces has been brought to trial in connection to incidents of rape in custody," Amnesty protested, noting however that one successful prosecution has been brought in a case where the victim of rape was also murdered.

"An analysis of the cases in which investigations were conducted and trial proceedings initiated suggests that the authorities are far more inclined to take action if there is a considerable amount of public pressure," Amnesty noted.

"Under international law, rape committed by government officials or armed political groups during armed conflict constitutes torture," Amnesty said. "Rape and other serious sexual assault have also long been recognized as breaches of international humanitarian law. They are now recognized as a war crime and, when committed on a systematic basis or large scale, a crime against humanity. As such, it is subject to universal jurisdiction."

In relation to both torture and rape, Amnesty International is concerned about the failure of the authorities to bring to justice those members of the security forces suspected of being responsible for torture, including rape, in custody.

Amnesty feels that "he most important reason for the lack of successful prosecutions of those allegedly responsible for rape in custody is that those responsible for the investigation (i.e. the police) are colleagues of the alleged perpetrators."

In June 1999, Amnesty said that "in order to eradicate torture ... there remains a need to establish a simple procedure which allows torture by the police or other law enforcement personnel to be investigated by an independent authority with the necessary powers and expertise required to ensure prosecutions for torture can be successfully brought."

"This is equally valid in relation to rape in custody," Amnesty pointed out Monday.

There are many additional reasons why criminal investigations into complaints of rape are generally unsuccessful, according to Amnesty. Among them are: threats by the perpetrators against the victim and/or the witnesses; inadequate medical evidence due to poor quality of initial medical examination (in itself sometimes caused by threats to the doctor) or due to delay in taking the victim to a doctor; lack of independence of the investigating authority: police investigating police or members of the security forces; slow action by the local authority (normally the police) to investigate; political or other pressure brought to bear on the investigators; the victim withdraws the complaint or stops her cooperation with the investigations, under pressure from her family or community in the context of a traditional stigma associated with rape; transfer of the case to a court a long distance away from the victim's home and the police fears to act against alleged perpetrators belonging to the security forces.

"The new government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe must now do everything in its power to prevent this grave sexual abuse of detainees," Amnesty said.

The organization is urging the new Prime Minister to "send a clear public message to all security forces personnel that rape and other serious sexual violence in custody will not be tolerated and that perpetrators of such offences will be brought to justice and held accountable [and] establish an independent investigative body with the necessary powers and expertise to open criminal investigations where human rights violations, including rape, are believed to have been committed."

"Ensuring justice for the countless women who have been victims of rape in custody, is an opportunity for the new Prime Minister to redeem his party's election pledge to 'safeguard women's rights'," Amnesty International concluded.


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