Three women at the opening of the Kataragama Festival, Sri Lanka’s largest interfaith gathering. Photo Credit: Brett Davies.
On May 8, members of the WPSN-C and local civil society organizations met with Yasmin Sooka in Ottawa to discuss her latest publication “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka (2009 to 2014)”. A lawyer based in South Africa, Yasmin Sooka is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights and was integral to the post-apartheid South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone.
Her most recent report compiles the statements of 40 men and women who were victims of torture and sexual violence at the hands of the Sri Lankan military in the wake of the 2009 defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Based on the evidence of these testimonies, Sooka concludes that the Government of Sri Lanka is guilty of employing the systemic use of torture and rape to terrorize Tamil civilians, among them disproportionately high numbers of women and children.
Although the armed conflict ended in 2009, the Sri Lankan forces continue to wage war on the bodies of Tamil civilians, leaving them in fear of the consequences of speaking out. Witness testimony reveals the sharp increase in “abduction, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual violence” following the ceasefire that was declared in 2009. Sooka’s report is a testament to the calculated and systematic nature of the crimes, exposing the ongoing corruption, impunity and lack of accountability plaguing Sri Lanka’s government.
The “Unfinished War” report, conducted in partnership with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Truth & Justice Project of Sri Lanka, has grave implications on donor states, among them the UK and Canada, who have invested in a range of rehabilitation and reconciliation initiatives in Sri Lanka and who provide refuge for those seeking forced asylum from government persecution. Despite these graphic and appalling cases of widespread sexual abuse and torture occurring at the hands of Sri Lankan military and police forces, the UN continues to involve Sri Lankan troops in peacekeeping missions.
Among the recommendations cited in the report, Sooka stresses the need to conduct an independent international inquiry into the military’s use of torture and sexual violence. She concludes by emphasizing the importance of holding Sri Lankan officials accountable for crimes by referring the findings of report to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for immediate and unprecedented legal action to bring justice to Sri Lankan citizens.
This post was written by Tori Roberts, WPSN-C Intern and student in the School of Social Work at Carleton University.