Feature Article

Poverty, oblivion dog rape victim

[TamilNet, Saturday, 19 April 2003, 00:30 GMT]
Two years since she was brutally raped and tortured in custody, Ms. Sivamani Weerakoon, lives in abject poverty and uncertainty. The mother of three said that she was never offered counselling to help her cope with the trauma of her ordeal. Sri Lankan law is yet to bring the perpetrators of the violence committed on her to book. Ms. Sivamani said that no women’s rights group has ever contacted her in connection with her rape and torture by Sri Lankan armed forces personnel.

“The Sri Lankan government proclaims that one year peace has achieved many positive things. But it is not true in the case of the law’s patently discriminatory delays in cases involving Tamils," Mr. N. Kandasamy, executive secretary of Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), the human right organisation that is providing legal aid for Sivamani’s case told TamilNet Friday.

Indictment is yet to be served on the Sri Lankan armed forces personnel accused of raping and torturing Sivamani and Vijikala in custody in March 2001 at the Police Special Investigation Unit camp in Mannar town.

Sivamani and her family

“This is a typical example of the discriminatory manner in which justice is delayed in Sri Lanka. There are many cases filed against Tamils under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which have been dragging on for years. In one such case, the trial has not commenced even after six years. But in the Udathalawinna massacre case, the judicial system has moved fast because a senior Sinhala politician is one of the accused. The Udathalawinna murder took place in December 2001. In that case, investigations were completed, indictments served and the trial at bar is going on now.

"Sivamani and Vijikala were raped and tortured in March 2001 but indictments are yet to be served on the perpetrators," Mr. Kandasamy said.

The CHRD filed a fundamental rights application on behalf of Sivamani and Vijikala in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court last year. “It will be taken up for hearing on 6 May," Kandasamy said.

Human rights activists and lawyers opine that the gravity of Sivamani’s case is such that it should be taken up under Sri Lanka’s Torture Act No. 24 of 1994.

But Mr. M. Remedius, the human rights lawyer who is appearing for Sivamani, said: “To my knowledge, no case has been filed under the Torture Act against members of the Sri Lankan armed forces who have tortured Tamils in the northeast.

“The few cases instituted under this Act involve violations perpetrated in the south,” Mr. Remedius added.

Sri Lanka introduced the Act when it acceded in 1994 to the Convention Against Torture (CAT) of 1987.

Sinhala extremists led by the lawyer, politician, Mr. S. L Gunasekera, have been agitating to free the Sri Lankan armed forces men accused of brutally torturing and raping Sivamani.

Their supporters in the army and Police, according to Catholic Church sources in Mannar, had threatened her with death. Her husband, a Sinhalese naturalised in the northern district, came under heavy duress from them at the time to reveal her whereabouts.

To escape their tormentors, Sivamani and her family moved to a remote refugee settlement last year. Her husband ekes out a living as a day wage labourer.

Women’s rights groups generally ignored her case. Some, under scrutiny from the independent Tamil press, sent out letters of mild protest to the government.

One women’s rights activist associated with a British NGO dismissively ventured to suggest in a letter to a local Tamil paper that the perpetrators of rape in the Sri Lankan armed forces in Mannar could not have been expected to remain passive when women there were, according to her, 'acting in a provocative manner.'

Mr. A. S. M Faszmi, the journalist who first exposed the case, was threatened with death by the Sri Lanka army.

“If not for him, I would have most probably murdered and dumped as an unclaimed corpse. My children would have been orphaned," Sivamani said, describing the efforts made by the journalist to bring her predicament to light at the time when fear ruled Mannar.

Irked by the embarrassment caused to the government by the revelation of Sivamani’s rape and torture, state run media attacked Mr. Faszmi viciously, falsely accusing him of proffering a bribe to the army. A docile press, including the Tamil paper for which he worked, published the PA’s regime’s outrageous allegations against Mr. Faszmi without granting him the basic right of reply.

Thousands of Tamils were subjected to indiscriminate torture and rape since 1979 under the PTA and the Emergency Regulations.

Human rights lawyers and activists say that the PTA promotes torture by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces because under its provisions a person can be convicted on the sole basis of his or her confession. Torture and rape therefore became the means of eliciting confessions from persons, mostly Tamils, arrested under the PTA.


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