Feature Article

‘ICG report fails to cover genocide-intended sexual violence’

[TamilNet, Sunday, 25 December 2011, 05:42 GMT]
The International Crisis Group report titled ‘Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East’ that was released on Tuesday touched upon problems faced by the Eezham Tamil women in their homelands at the hands of the occupying Sri Lankan military apparatus. While the report has been welcomed by some for its revelations, Eezham Tamil civil society activists in the homeland, academics and feminists came down heavily on the report for studying the gender problem in isolation without addressing either the national question of the Eezham Tamils or the process of structural genocide, which necessarily includes use of sexual violence, which is being carried out by the Sinhala majoritarian state to crush the Eezham Tamil nation. They also questioned the motives and practical effectiveness of such reports that seek to push the principal contradictions under the carpet.

According to the ICG report, research was conducted in Sri Lanka, India, Europe and the US from late 2010 to late 2011, with interviews from aid workers, academics, civil society activists and government officials.

Some of the general observations of the report follow:

“Women in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil-speaking north and east are facing a desperate lack of security in the aftermath of the long civil war. Today many still live in fear of violence from various sources. Those who fall victim to it have little means of redress.”

“Women’s economic security is precarious, and their physical mobility is limited. The heavily militarised and centralised control of the north and east – with almost exclusively male, Sinhalese security forces – raises particular problems for women there in terms of their safety, sense of security and ability to access assistance.”

“The fact that women must rely on the military for everyday needs not only puts them at greater risk of gender-based violence, but also prevents them from building their own capacity within communities.”

“Militarisation and the government’s refusal to devolve power or restore local civilian administration in the north and east have directly contributed to this complex societal distress, which comes on the heels of the collapse of the repressive regime run by the LTTE.”

“The government’s overwhelming response to allegations of sexual violence has been to reject them, as it has done with video footage that shows what appears to be Sinhalese soldiers making sexual comments while handling the dead, naked bodies of female suspected LTTE fighters, some of whom have their hands bound.”

“The international response to women’s insecurity has been unnecessarily muted. Not only have Sri Lanka’s international partners, including the United Nations, failed to speak out publicly and clearly about threats to women and allegations of abuse, but they have agreed to work within militarised structures that have amplified vulnerability and reduced transparency.”

“Reports of abuse of Tamil women and girls in the north and east by government security forces energise Tamil separatism and deepen the community’s sense of persecution. Such incidents, and the stories and rumours that surround them, also affect Tamils’ feelings of attachment to the LTTE and to the notion of armed resistance.”

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Like all other previous reports of the ICG, this one too lays blame on both the victor nation and the victim nation. In the name of addressing women’s grievances, the report also launches an ideological offensive on all the actual and effective addressal of Eezham Tamil women’s problems by the LTTE by quoting extensively from prejudiced sources, and even covertly seeks to lay a major part of the blame on the Tigers and Tamil nationalism, commented a Tamil academic.

Completely disregarding the emancipatory aspect that the liberation struggle had for Eezham Tamil women, it dismisses even the first person accounts of the Tamil people where they clearly state that their current predicament is owing to the fact of the defeat of their genuine political representatives as ‘romaniticization’, criticizing the Eezham Tamils for not holding the LTTE responsible for “undermining Tamil society and promoting violence.”

That the process of genocide-intended sexual violence received a strong checkmate with the LTTE’s de facto state is a fact that this report is trying to corrode, he said, adding that this type of violence got a new impetus after the military defeat of the LTTE.

It should also be studied whether this is a part of a counter-insurgency strategy to diffuse Tamil nationalist sentiments in the homeland and the diaspora, he opined.

The report’s solutions to the problems of the Eezham Tamil women lays more stress on the Sri Lankan government becoming a more accountable and transparent state, overlooking the genocide and structural genocide that Sri Lanka commits, and ignoring the relation between the sexual violence on Tamil women and the colonization of Tamil Eelam by the Sinhalese.

Whether such reports are not operating from an orientalist mentality, overlooking the views of the natives and imposing their views on the Eezham Tamils, activists in the homeland wondered.

An Eezham Tamil woman activist from Vavuniyaa told TamilNet “Gandhi had described the true state of freedom as a condition where a woman can walk from one town to another at any time of day without any fear of harassment. We had that freedom under the LTTE. Under Sri Lankan occupation, we are even afraid to come out of our homes.”

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Other reports from the ground that emerged were more disturbing:

The observations on Eezham Tamil women being forced in prostitution that was mentioned in the ICG report, the phenomena of wide teenage pregnancies and trafficking of Eezham Tamil women within the country and abroad, were also complemented by veteran civil society activist CVK Sivagnanam.

In 2011 alone, more than 260 girls in Jaffna below the age of 16 were pregnant, said Mr. Sivagnanam, citing Mrs. Imelda Sugumar the SLGA for Jaffna district.

Press meeting by CVK Sivagnanam of Council of NGOs in Jaffna District
Press meeting by CVK Sivagnanam of Council of NGOs in Jaffna District
Mr. Sivagnanam, the president of the council of NGOs in Jaffna district, at a press meet on 21 December, also noted that in a particular camp, where a portion of uprooted people from Valikaamam North in Jaffna due to the genocidal military’s HSZ there have been herded, 4 children in their early teenage are pregnant. He also noted that Tamil girls who have lost their parents are the worst affected.

It was also reported that certain Muslim brokers from the South have been involved in trafficking Tamil women in Jaffna and other places to the middle-east, which is a new social process that has been increasing after Mu’l’livaaikkaal.

Tamil women, who in the name of ‘rehabilitation’, have been provided jobs in the garments industry in Katunayake area have been systematically targeted by Sinhala gangs for exploitation with tacit approval of the SL police.

Other activists in the North and East also lamented that the NGOs that receive extensive aid from western countries like the US for women’s issues have done nothing to tackle these problems.

Also, no civil group from Jaffna have taken this up with the seriousness it deserves. Keeping this in mind, a sub-committee has been formed by the council of NGOs in Jaffna district to conduct an awareness campaign on the grave situation confronting Eezham Tamil women.

Apart from overt sexual violence like rape and molestation, there is also a ‘mild approach’ used by the Sinhala military towards Tamil women, where army men in the pretext of befriending or helping women, exploit them sexually. Informed sources from Vanni reported that army men have been instructed by their seniors to use this approach to avoid scandal.

Sinhala contractors who are brought into the Tamil homeland are also involved in such activities, it is said.

There is also a pathological ‘victor’s mentality’ among the Sinhala colonizers wherein possessing Eezham Tamil women is considered an achievement only parallel to their conquest of the Tamil Eelam homeland.

While the ICG report does have specific examples of such incidents, it fails to connect it as the continuation of a deliberate process that has been happening for decades.

In their analysis of the deployment of sexual violence in Bosnia, Bulent Diken and Carsten Bagge Lausten argue in their academic article ‘Becoming Abject: Rape as a Weapon of War’ that “The prime aim of war rape is to inflict trauma and thus to destroy family ties and group solidarity within the enemy camp. Apart from demoralization of the enemy, war rape can also become an integral aspect of ethnic cleansing.”

Pointing out the need to incorporate war rape as an aspect of genocide, they contend that if a power aims to destroy an ethnic group, women are good targets due to their position in the family structure. That any such analysis or conclusion is missing in the ICG report despite the wide prevalence of similar phenomena in the Tamil homelands makes their commitment to the women’s problems questionable, commented a Tamil academic.

It should be apparent that prevalent sexual violence in the occupied areas of the Tamil homeland is a conscious attempt to tear the social fabric of the Tamil nation and successfully complete cultural genocide, which is essential for the complete erasure of the Eezham Tamil polity. By maintaining a condition where Eezham Tamil women are forced to abandon their bodies to Sinhala men, there is an implicit plan to physically coerce the Eezham Tamil nation to assimilation by exercising complete sexual control over the women.

The late Senior Editor D. Sivaram was most clear in his analysis of this phenomenon when he said that “You have to trace the connection between the inequalities within a group of people and their oppression... so and so is raped because she is a Tamil woman. One of the things that a regime of terror expects is the total submission of women to the regime of terror. Basically the regime of terror expects women to be sex slaves.”

But whether the ICG report, that completely ignores the links between the incidents of sexual violence and exploitation that Eezham Tamil women undergo at the hands of the occupying Sinhala military from the genocidal process at social and cultural levels, has any concrete effect at all needs to be seriously questioned.

Also, the phenomena of extensive alcohol and substance abuse by males in Tamil households, which the ICG report is eager to point out as patriarchal problems within the Tamil community, again cannot be seen in isolation from the deliberate attempts of Sri Lankan state to break the moral fabric within the Tamil nation. It has already been reported how Sinhala and Muslim drug peddlers from the South operate in Tamil areas, especially targeting the youth market, with support from the army.

The sexual aggressiveness of the Sinhala dominant army was also very clearly exposed in their ‘peace keeping’ mission in Haiti, where they have been accused of sexually assaulting women and children, some as young as 7-years-old. It has been argued that this is a result of their general approach while dealing with Eezham Tamil women.


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