Sri Lanka govt faces pressure over torture, rape allegations

AP

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  • In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #199 shows the scars on his back during an interview in London. He has tried to commit suicide multiple times because of the traumatic memories of his rape and torture. Raped, branded and beaten repeatedly, more than 50 ethnic Tamil men seeking political asylum in Europe have come forward to say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current regime. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 1

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan teen known as Witness #267 shows scars and marks on his chest during an interview in London. The 19-year old said that he was raped and burned more than 60 times with cigarettes during his detention earlier in the year in Sri Lanka. Trembling when asked questions, he says, “I can’t. I’m not anywhere near through this.” (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 2

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #244 shows his scars during an interview in London. Most nights he wakes to nightmares and survives on a mixture of sleeping pills and anti-depressants. Raped, branded and beaten repeatedly, more than 50 ethnic Tamil men seeking political asylum in Europe have come forward to say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current regime. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 3

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #205 shows scars on his arms during an interview in London. The 22-year old, like the majority of the other victims, said one of his captors identified himself as a member of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 4

    Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army speaks during an interview in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Oct. 31, 2017. Senanayake denied that Sri Lankan soldiers or members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes, could have been involved in interrogating or abusing Tamils after the war. Sri Lanka says it will investigate allegations by more than 50 ethnic Tamils that they were abducted and tortured by police or army soldiers long after the end of the island nation's bloody civil war. (AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly)

  • 5

    In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #249 shows brand marks on his back during an interview in London. He said his captors used hot iron rods to make the marks meant to symbolize tiger stripes for the Tamil Tigers rebel group. He, like others, escaped Sri Lanka and was smuggled to Europe where he awaits a decision on political asylum. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 6

    In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #202 shows branding marks on his back during an interview in London. Memories of his 2016 rape and torture have compelled him to speak out. Like many of the other tortured men, he was accused of trying to revive the Tamil Tigers rebel group. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 7

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #197 is photographed during an interview in London. During his detention, he said his captors burned him with cigarettes, kicked his chest, tried to suffocate him with a bag filled with petrol and raped him. “I don’t go to (pray) anymore. I’ve pretty much stopped believing in anything. Everyone thinks of Sri Lanka as such a beautiful place, but now my head is just filled with negativity. I want to make sure that nothing like this happens to anyone else,” he said. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 8

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #221 speaks during an interview in London. For nearly three months, he was held in what he said was the infamous Joseph Camp where he was stripped, beaten, burned and raped, before flying to Europe on a fake passport and being smuggled to Britain in a car trunk. He hasn't seen his wife and son for more than a year. “Here they look after their dogs really well. Back in Sri Lanka, Tamils are treated worse than dogs. What is the point of karma if these men get away with what they are doing now?” (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 9

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a nineteen-year-old Sri Lankan man known as Witness #267 shows his wounds during an interview in London. His thighs were marked with more than 60 cigarette burns - one of many punishments he endured during his detention in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 10

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, Sri Lankans, many of whom said they were tortured in their home country, gather at a church in London. Sri Lankan torture victims seeking asylum in Europe travel to London each week for English classes, counseling sessions and lunch. Sometimes, human rights investigators meet new victims willing to give their testimonies. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #199 shows the scars on his back during an interview in London. He has tried to commit suicide multiple times because of the traumatic memories of his rape and torture. Raped, branded and beaten repeatedly, more than 50 ethnic Tamil men seeking political asylum in Europe have come forward to say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current regime. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 1

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan teen known as Witness #267 shows scars and marks on his chest during an interview in London. The 19-year old said that he was raped and burned more than 60 times with cigarettes during his detention earlier in the year in Sri Lanka. Trembling when asked questions, he says, “I can’t. I’m not anywhere near through this.” (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 2

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #244 shows his scars during an interview in London. Most nights he wakes to nightmares and survives on a mixture of sleeping pills and anti-depressants. Raped, branded and beaten repeatedly, more than 50 ethnic Tamil men seeking political asylum in Europe have come forward to say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current regime. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 3

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #205 shows scars on his arms during an interview in London. The 22-year old, like the majority of the other victims, said one of his captors identified himself as a member of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 4

    Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army speaks during an interview in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Oct. 31, 2017. Senanayake denied that Sri Lankan soldiers or members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes, could have been involved in interrogating or abusing Tamils after the war. Sri Lanka says it will investigate allegations by more than 50 ethnic Tamils that they were abducted and tortured by police or army soldiers long after the end of the island nation's bloody civil war. (AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly)

  • 5

    In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #249 shows brand marks on his back during an interview in London. He said his captors used hot iron rods to make the marks meant to symbolize tiger stripes for the Tamil Tigers rebel group. He, like others, escaped Sri Lanka and was smuggled to Europe where he awaits a decision on political asylum. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 6

    In this July 18, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #202 shows branding marks on his back during an interview in London. Memories of his 2016 rape and torture have compelled him to speak out. Like many of the other tortured men, he was accused of trying to revive the Tamil Tigers rebel group. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 7

    In this July 20, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #197 is photographed during an interview in London. During his detention, he said his captors burned him with cigarettes, kicked his chest, tried to suffocate him with a bag filled with petrol and raped him. “I don’t go to (pray) anymore. I’ve pretty much stopped believing in anything. Everyone thinks of Sri Lanka as such a beautiful place, but now my head is just filled with negativity. I want to make sure that nothing like this happens to anyone else,” he said. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 8

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a Sri Lankan man known as Witness #221 speaks during an interview in London. For nearly three months, he was held in what he said was the infamous Joseph Camp where he was stripped, beaten, burned and raped, before flying to Europe on a fake passport and being smuggled to Britain in a car trunk. He hasn't seen his wife and son for more than a year. “Here they look after their dogs really well. Back in Sri Lanka, Tamils are treated worse than dogs. What is the point of karma if these men get away with what they are doing now?” (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 9

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, a nineteen-year-old Sri Lankan man known as Witness #267 shows his wounds during an interview in London. His thighs were marked with more than 60 cigarette burns - one of many punishments he endured during his detention in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

  • 10

    In this July 27, 2017, photo, Sri Lankans, many of whom said they were tortured in their home country, gather at a church in London. Sri Lankan torture victims seeking asylum in Europe travel to London each week for English classes, counseling sessions and lunch. Sometimes, human rights investigators meet new victims willing to give their testimonies. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

GENEVA (AP) — Sri Lanka's government faced increasing pressure Friday to answer for alleged human rights violations following a recent war crimes lawsuit and allegations from over 50 men who said they were raped, branded or tortured as recently as this year.

The men's anguished descriptions of their abuses come nearly a decade after Sri Lanka's civil war ended and days ahead of a review of the Indian Ocean nation by the U.N.'s top human rights body.

Doctors, psychologists, lawmakers and rights groups have appealed to the United Nations to investigate new allegations published by The Associated Press on Wednesday. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and interviewed 20 men who said they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war.

Although combat ended in 2009, they say the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July this year.

"Someone has to do something about this," said Dr. Frank Arnold, one of several doctors who wrote to U.N. Human Rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein and called for an independent investigation into the Sri Lankan torture allegations.

"As forensic experts, we have collectively seen many hundreds of Sri Lankans who have fled their country following torture over the years," the physicians' letter said. "We continue to receive a worrying number of cases from Sri Lanka despite the change of government."

One of the men in the AP investigation said he was held for 21 days in a small room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down. Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a "torture room" pocked with blood splatters on the wall.

Most of the men say they their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes. Some, however, said it appeared their interrogators were soldiers.

Rep. Eliot Engel, top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said policymakers in Washington cannot ignore these alleged crimes.

"These allegations are horrifying, and must be fully and transparently investigated. The seriousness of these reports should also make the United States wary of advancing our military relationship with Sri Lanka until a full accounting has occurred," he said Friday.

Sri Lanka's diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond to repeated calls or an email Friday seeking comment.

U.N. human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said "we are currently looking into these alarming allegations to work out the best way for them to be further investigated."

The AP's investigation into the recent Sri Lankan torture allegations came months after another investigation in which the AP found that 134 U.N. peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were implicated in a child sex ring in Haiti between 2004 and 2007. Despite evidence of child rape, no Sri Lankan peacekeeper was ever prosecuted.

In August, rights groups in South America filed lawsuits against Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, a Sri Lankan ambassador in the region. He is accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people at the end of the country's civil war.

Upon the ambassador's return to Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya nor any other "war hero" would face prosecution — a pledge that rights groups said illustrates continued impunity in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, which has denied the allegations of torture and war crimes, goes before the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in Geneva next week as part of a regular examination known as the Universal Periodic Review. All 193 U.N. member states usually undergo such reviews about every 4-1/2 years, but Wednesday's review may hold added significance.

The UPR process generally focuses on institutional, long-term efforts by countries — not specific issues like the recent testimonies of sexual abuse and torture in Sri Lanka. The new allegations, however, suggest that Sri Lanka still has not stopped using torture — a practice it was highly criticized for during and after the war against the Tamil Tigers rebel group.

Yasmin Sooka, director of the South Africa-based Foundation for Human Rights, said she hopes the review will spur member states to ask Sri Lanka tough questions. She also urged the U.N. to establish an independent body to investigate the allegations — much like it did in Guatemala.

"There is no real framework for witness security in Sri Lanka," said Sooka. "As it stands now, the very people who are accused of such violations would essentially be in charge of investigating themselves. An independent investigative unit needs to be established."

Many ethnic minority Tamils contend the government continues to target them as part of a larger plan to destroy their culture. Tamils speak a different language and are largely Hindu, unlike the country's largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

More than 100,000 people were estimated to have died in the war, including at least up to 40,000 civilians in its final months, according to U.N. estimates. Sri Lankan authorities have denied targeting civilians and dispute the death toll.

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, chief minister for Sri Lanka's Northern Province and a former Supreme Court judge, sent a letter to the AP on Friday confirming similar rights abuses he has heard from Tamils in his northern constituency. He said he has previously urged the U.N. rights chief to demand an independent investigation.

"Unfortunately, this was overlooked ... if the international mechanism was in place it would have acted as a deterrent to these military sadists," he told the AP on Friday.

The London-based Freedom from Torture group also urged Zeid to independently investigate the claims.

"Our evidence is consistent with the recent press reports and suggests that torture remains deeply ingrained in the military, police and intelligence sectors in peacetime Sri Lanka," the group said in a letter.

Some advocates said even more pressure was needed.

"There's mounting evidence that Sri Lanka cannot keep ignoring but while the pressure is there, they are essentially still getting away with it," said Canadian lawmaker Gary Anandasangaree, who has urged the Canadian government to do more ahead of a peacekeeping conference in Canada next week.

___

Katy Daigle in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Matt Pennington in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

         

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