TORONTO — Roy Samathanam was beaten with pipes and kicked in the groin after he was arrested by Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division, but it was when they threatened to rape his wife that he broke and agreed to sign a false confession.
On Wednesday, the Toronto resident said he felt a sense of vindication over a chilling report by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s office into the torture and other abuses committed during the final stage of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.
The report found the Sri Lankan security forces had tortured detainees “on a widespread and systematic scale,” and that, were the evidence ever brought before a court, the acts may well amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Waterboarding was “frequently used,” it said. Bags soaked in gas or chili powder were placed over the heads of detainees. Fingernails and toenails were removed with pliers. Needles were stuck under their nails. They were branded with metal rods and forced to drink their urine.
“At least they recognized it and said this happened,” Samathanam said in an interview. “They at least acknowledged it. That is really good, I’m satisfied with that.”
But he isn’t convinced it will change the culture of impunity in the country of his birth.
The UN launched its investigation in March 2014 following complaints that both government forces and the Tamil Tigers rebels had committed atrocities during the fighting that ended in May 2009.
The report, which examined the period between 2002 and 2011, said there were reasonable grounds to believe that all parties in the conflict had committed gross human rights violations that “may amount, depending on the circumstances, to war crimes.”
Investigators said the security forces and pro-government paramilitary groups were implicated in “widespread” unlawful killings of Tamil politicians, aid workers, journalists and civilians. The Tamil Tigers, also known as the LTTE, similarly killed Tamils who did not sympathize with their cause, as well as political figures, public officials, academics and civilians — many of them victims of indiscriminate suicide bombings.
There was also evidence that rebels and others taken captive during the finals days of fighting had been executed, among them Balachandran Prabhakaran, the 12-year-old son of Tamil Tigers boss Velupillai Prabhakaran, the report said.
Arbitrary arrests, disappearances and rapes also occurred, it said, blaming the security forces. “The patterns of sexual violence appear to have been a deliberate means of torture to extract information and to humiliate and punish persons who were presumed to have some link to the LTTE.”
As it closed in on the LTTE, the Sri Lankan military failed to safeguard civilians, tens of thousands of whom lost their lives, the report said. Hospitals were repeatedly shelled and heavy weapons were used in densely populated areas.
The Tamil rebels also share blame for placing weapons such as artillery in civilian areas and enforcing a “high level policy” of preventing civilians from leaving the war zone, in some cases by shooting those trying to flee, including children.
The report said investigators had “documented extensive recruitment” of children by the LTTE, especially during the final months of the battle, when kids under 15 were sent to fight. The pro-government Karuna Group also recruited children, it said.
“We welcome the findings of the high commissioner’s report that finally acknowledge the grave human rights violations that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the Canadian Tamil Congress said in a statement that urged the international community to ensure the recommendations were implemented.
The key recommendation in the UN report was the establishment of a “hybrid special court” composed of Sri Lankan representatives and international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators to try those responsible for war crimes.
The Sri Lankan government has long been reluctant to entertain an international investigation into the conduct of its forces. In protest, Prime Minister Stephen Harper boycotted the 2013 Commonwealth summit in Colombo, the capital. But the election in January of a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, has fuelled optimism of a coming to terms with wartime abuses.
Samathanam isn’t so sure.
Two years ago, he took a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, asking for an investigation into the torture he suffered during the three years he was held after police grew suspicious about cellphones he had imported. He is still awaiting action and said he is considering taking his case to the RCMP.
Although the war ended more than six years ago, the Sri Lankan government has still not rescinded its strict anti-terrorism law, and he has little faith that those responsible for what he and so many others suffered will ever be held to account.
“I don’t think much is going to happen.”
Source: Stewart Bell, National Post, 16 September 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/tortured-toronto-man-says-he-feels-vindicated-by-un-report-on-sri-lanka