By V.Thangavelu, President WTCWA
It comes as no surprise and everything is true to form to learn from newspaper reports that the Human Rights Commission which investigated the rape and murder of Sarathambaal Saravanabhavanantha Kurukkal has decided to close the file for lack of evidence. Likewise the CID too has thrown in the towel saying there are no suspects. Apparently to both the HRC and the CID it looks though Sarathambaal was never raped and murdered, but she simply committed suicide!
Contrary to what the HRC and CID say, local residents claim that the naval ratings who raped Sarathambaal have all been transferred from the island to prevent identification, interrogation and arrest. This is a familiar and thinly disguised ploy unashamedly used by the top brasses of the armed forces to shelter perpetrators of crimes from the long arm of the law.
Ironically at that point of time the Information Department of the Peoples Alliance government released a statement saying that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had ordered a full inquiry to “report back to her immediately for deterrent action against the culprits irrespective of the ranks or status.” As events have now proved, President Chandrika’s order was only a ritual and a camouflage intended to silence international criticism rather than a genuine effort to apprehend perpetrators of the crime, protect human rights and prevent further violations.
It will be recalled that Sarathambal ( 29), daughter of the local Brahmin priest and mother of a three years old child, was forcibly dragged out from her home in Punkudutivu by gunmen in black uniform. The incident happened at 8.30 p.m. on December 28 (Tuesday),1999 when a curfew was in force. They then gang-raped and murdered her in cold blood.
Punkudutivu is one of several islands lying off the Jaffna peninsula that is under martial law and night curfews since rested from the LTTE in 1995/96. Chandrika’s government has ceded the island to the para-military outfit EPDP and crowned Douglas Devananda as Viceroy as pay-off for betraying the Tamil freedom struggle and providing armed mercenaries to fight the LTTE.
The body of the victim was found the following morning dumped under the bushes near Kannaki Amman Temple situated just 20 metres away from her house. It was covered with ‘kaavolai’ ( dry palmyrah leaves).
The burial of Sarathambal took place at the Khanate cemetery, Borella in Colombo.
Chandrasekara Sarma the farther of the deceased and her three-year old daughter performed the last rites. Ironically the funeral arrangements were made jointly by the EPDP which was ruling Punkudutivu and the Forum for Human Dignity.
At the inquest held subsequently a sobbing Chandrasekara Iyer Rajasekara Sarma, 19, giving evidence said the deceased was his elder sister. “On the day of incident at 8.30 p.m. I was at home listening to a radio program when suddenly four persons in black uniform with shoes forced opened the doors of the house and entered. They tied my hands, covered my eyes and assaulted me. They throttled my neck to prevent me from shouting and dragged me behind the house ..... two of them dragged my sister away to a nearby deserted house.” According to the witness, the rapists and murderers spoke in Tamil with heavy Sinhala accent.
The medical report furnished by the Judicial Medical Officer (J.M.O), Colombo said that the injuries and scratch marks found on the body of the victim was consistent with rape and murder. Mrs. Ilangovan, Jaffna Acting Magistrate read out the J.M.O’s report in open court on January 08, 2000.
Sarathambaal is only one among scores of Tamil women routinely subjected to sexual violence and murder by the Sri Lankan armed forces. There is a long list of hapless and defenceless Tamil women falling victims to thugs in uniform.
(1) On March 19, 2001 in Mannar, ten Navy personnel arrested two Tamil women Wijikala Nanthakumar ( 22) an expectant mother and Sivamani Arjunan (24) mother of three children have gone to Mannar on personal errands. On the way to the Counter Insurgency Unit (CIU) in Mannar, the Navy personnel started making sexual advances towards these totally helpless women. On arriving at the CIU at 11.30 p.m. both women were stripped naked, blind-folded and sexually assaulted. Wijikala was brutally and repeatedly gang raped by two naval ratings. Sivamani was also gang raped and subjected to several hours of torture while the rest of the men in uniform sadistically relished witnessing the rape through openings in the wall!
(2) Rajani Velayuthapillai, aged 23 years was detained by the Sri Lankan army personnel at Kondavil military check-post on her way back from Maanippai on October 03, 1996. She was returning after saying adieu to some of her close relatives prior to flying to Canada to join her fiancée. The soldiers on duty gang raped her and dumped her body in a pit of an abandoned lavatory near the Kondavil military check-post.
(3) Thenuka Selvarajah, a 5th grade student at Atchuvely Mahavidyalayam, was abducted and gang raped by army personnel attached to Puttur army camp on November 2, 1996. Luckily the sexually abused and psychologically tormented child escaped her abductors to tell her story to the school principal.
(4) Mrs. Murugesapillai Koneswary, mother of 4 children, of Central Camp, Amparai District, was passing though the check point at Central Camp on 17 May, 1997 when she was verbally assaulted and sexually harassed by four police officers on duty at that time. Reportedly, Mrs. Koneswary was not one to quietly take the harassment and thus defended herself, shouting at the officers and demanding that they leave her alone. At approximately 11.00 p.m. the same night, an unknown number of armed men in uniform entered Mrs. Koneswary’s home. By 11.30 she was dead. She died instantly when a hand grenade was exploded on her private part. This was apparently done to destroy all evidence of gang rape. Mrs. Koneswary’s home, a thatched hut with a concrete floor, bore the marks of the explosion.
(5) Velan Rasammah (38) a widow and her sister Nalliah Dharshini (28) were raped by four army soldiers at Thannamunai, a village 6 km north of Batticaloa. The incident took place on March 17, 1997 at 11.00 p.m. At an identification parade the victims identified only one soldier among a total of 150.
(6) On March 22, 1997 the police opened fire at a middle-aged couple in Batticaloa. Mrs. Mervyn Ockerz (52) who was shot in the head died on the spot. Her husband Kingsley Ockerz (55) was seriously wounded.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar brags that the armed forces under President Chandrika is highly disciplined unlike during the time of her predecessors. Such preposterous and audacious statement only help rub salt into wounds. There is a mountain of damning evidence to prove that the Sri Lankan armed forces is using rape as a weapon of war. Minister Kadirgamar should know better than anyone else that to the Tamils honouring and defending the chastity of Tamil women is an article of faith with them. And Tamil women will chose death in preference to losing their chastity.
Since the government of President Chandrika is indifferent to crimes committed by members of the armed forces in a pervasive climate of immunity from punishment, such state sponsored terrorism is on the rise. The long arm of the law simply refuses to catch the rapists and murders, except in very rare cases, when the victims are Tamils!
International condemnation of such acts and protest demonstrations have also proved futile and ineffective despite the fact a woman is the all powerful executive president. As always the case the Tamil people have been virtually left to fend themselves for survival.
Let no one entertain any illusion that the Sinhala racist government will ever punish those who commit war crimes and mete out justice to the Tamil victims of state terrorism.
If anything, war criminals will be rewarded with promotions and high profile diplomatic postings. The accused soldiers in the Kirishanti Kumaraswamy rape and murder trial told court that they were only carrying out orders of their commanders to bury dead bodies at Chemmani. One of the commander in charge of theJaffna peninsula at that time (1996) was Brigadier Janaka Perera who was later promoted to the post of Deputy Chief of Staff, Chief of Staff and now appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Australia!
Since 1983 the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces have declared war on the Tamil people unleashing military terror in order to subjugate them by force. In order to maintain their oppressive rule over the Tamil people the Sinhala occupation army has committed, and continue to commit, horrendous human rights violations.
As already stated Sri Lankan state sponsored terrorism against Tamil people is on the rise. The basic right to life and liberty of every Tamil is in jeopardy under the oppressive rule of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Rape, murder, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture etc. have become so common that even Amnesty International appears to evince only superficial interest in such crimes against humanity. According to a 1999 Amnesty International report "torture has been among the most common human rights violations reported in Sri Lanka."
Sri Lanka has ratified both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention Against Torture. In addition, Sri Lanka has also enacted enabling legislation in the form of the Torture Act to give effect to the Convention Against Torture. But in practice they remain a dead letter.
Today, the Tamil people are not only subject to a brutal war in the Northeast which results in death and destruction, but they are also routinely subject to indignities of arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, rape, torture and murder under judicial custody by the Sinhala armed forces.
There is a proverb in Tamil which says that it is foolish for a man to be on the look out for a good omen while having a cat in his pouch. So are the Tamil people today. Until they physically force the Sinhala army to vacate the illegal occupation of our Tamil Homeland and cut loose the chains of Sri Lanka’s hegemonic rule, the woes of Tamils will continue to multiply in geometric progression.