Women in the north and the east of Sri Lanka have undergone severe hardships during the war, including the loss of loved ones, family’s support structures, livelihoods, houses and also a loss of life and dignity. While there have been numerous changes announced by the Government the situation for women on ground, however, has continued to be challenging. It is sad since the end of the brutal war women’s lives have not seen a dramatic transformation over the last two years and they have continued to face the basic challenges of safety, shelter and basic facilities. It in this light that we wish to put forward a few issues that these women have been facing within the broader context of life in the north and east for the communities living there. We have chosen to highlight these issues because of their gravity, the State’s involvement in the same and the inability of women to seek justice in such cases owing to the lack of an effective civilian administration, security threats and the lack of a concrete remedy within the local legal system. While we write of the issues relating to women, they raise broader concerns impacting the families and communities. The incidents and the report cover only the Northern and Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.
Resettlement – Even though there has been publicity about resettlement, the manner and the speed in which it has been done harmed the women. Muslims returning to Jaffna have a long drawn process and have to spend about Rs.1500 to government officers to register themselves. They also need to cover their travel and food costs to and from Jaffna. They forgo the cost of food rations, have no shelter in this intermediate stage and are forced to shuttle between Puttalam and Jaffna. Granting of land permits has also been stopped. In other areas people have been able to go back to their villages but their house has been occupied by the army. There are fears that some areas will be barred for access either due to national security or development reasons.
The government has been taking over land that people earlier inhabited and in some cases owned title deeds either to set up military camps or for developmental projects. In the North and the East several public and private lands have been taken over by the military to set up camps or check points. The people from Sampur still await return but the Government claims it needs their land for military and development purposes, including a coal power station built by an Indian Company.
The Sri Lankan government needs to provide a systematic and speedy resettlement process for the people in the North and ensure that the aid promised by donors and the government are in fact distributed to those who are being resettled. Equal treatment in the process of distribution across the sexes has to be assured by the responsible government officials.
The government’s new rule stopping the grant of land permits need to be re-looked at as this new policy ensures that families with no land are left destitute and with no possibility of resettlement or aid, particularly of housing. The GoSL however has been continuing its land grant under the Mahaweli scheme in the Central Province. Likewise, either it must treat the Northern citizens the same by providing them permits in the North or ensure that they can apply for land in the Central Province.
Missing Persons, Detainees and Political Prisoners – A critical issue faced by a number of families in the north, particularly women in the north and the east, is that of the missing – of husbands, sons, daughters and other family members. The Government has failed to provide these families any system of recourse to help them trace their family members. While currently much of the focus is about what happened in the last months of the war, the victims from the last two decades are waiting for some help to know what has happened to their loved ones. Also a number of the detainees who were subsequently released have undergone torture during the period of detention. There is also a systemic harassment of women who have been detained and subsequently released in the new resettlement areas. They are constantly monitored and cannot lead normal lives. But more importantly there is a culture of harassment that comes with this form of monitoring. For women there are additional issues. When female ex- cadres and women arrested ‘under suspicion’ under the emergency law, which has been extended again this month, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, report to military camps, which they are constantly asked to do, certain military personal make sexual advances and the women have been threatened for non-compliance. Increased military presence and the constant surveillance of these women released are at great risk within the community and also with the military. A few women are still in detention even though they have been sent for rehabilitation and their said period of rehabilitation has been completed.
There are several cases where women have been arrested and detained for long periods of time without a charge sheet and released subsequent to the filing of a Fundamental Rights petition. These women have faced torture and inhuman treatment in the prison on mere suspicion. The GoSL of Sri Lanka must ensure that arrests and detention are not used by the State to control people and harass them but are done in the proper manner where the detainees safety is assured at all times. It should be a system through which wrong doers are apprehended. Hiring legal counsel is expensive in Sri Lanka and many women do not have the finances or the knowledge that they have a right to legal aid. Therefore many women languish in prison. Therefore the GoSL must take steps to release those who have no charge sheet against them with immediate effect.
The case of Thirumakal Maxmillan and Vasanthy Ragupathy: they were arrested under suspicion of aiding in illegal activity. They have been in prison for the last 10 years, away from their young children and suffering mental trauma and illness. These women when arrested with their husbands were tortured and made to confess to crimes that they were not aware of. The GoSL should ensure that the case which has been dragging over a decade is tried and a verdict issued so that these women can return to their young children who are currently in the care of relatives/orphanages
Violence against women and Rape by Military and Security Personnel – The civil administrative system has been replaced by the military system in the North in the ‘post war’ context. This started with the management of interim camps such as Menik farm in the last days of the brutal war that ended in May 2009. Militarization of the everyday lives of people in the north has caused significant problems to women’s security, such as increased insecurity and even rape. In many areas there are no police posts and people need to seek the assistance and permission of the military for their daily needs. This places women in a vulnerable position.
In the Vishvamadu rape case for example, four military men raped one returnee women and sexually abused another on 06th June 2010. The raped victim and other two women were with their children in the resettlement areas clearing their plot of land and the military men who visited the site in the day, realizing that the women were without male companions and went back to the site on the same night and assaulted the women and children and went on to sexually abuse and rape the women. On 14th June the victims identified the four military men. On 19th November 2010 four accused military men were released on bail and one of the accused has been absconding the last two hearings. To date the case has faced several postponements and there is a complete disregard by the State to ensure speedy justice.
On December 16, 2005 Ms. Vijekanthan Tharsini was raped and murdered in Punguduthivu. It is alleged that the crime was committed by the Sri Lankan Navy since a cap used by the forces was found near her dead body. A number too was found in the cap. No reference was made by anyone regarding this cap and no attention was given regarding this matter. Investigations were carried out. Subsequently it was found that it belonged to an army personnel serving in Kayts who later served in Batticaloa. The case is still pending in the courts.
On March 19, 2001 two Tamil women, Mrs. Sivamani Sinnathamby and Mrs. Vijikala Nanadakumar, were arrested in Mannar by naval officers and taken into custody. While in custody both were raped and tortured by police officers. At the time of the incident the case was very sensitive and drew the attention of the international community. The case was transferred to Anuradhapura where the women were humiliated during court proceedings and faced great threats as they had initiated legal proceedings. Both victims and their family members underwent continuous harassment at the hands of the military and repeatedly received death threats. In 2008 the case was stopped on a stay order by the Court of Appeal. There are several such cases where women who were raped, tortured and even murdered by security personnel are unable to come forward, for if they do, they might have to face violence, being abducted and even killed.
Women lost their husbands and young male family members, as a result of forced recruitment by the LTTE or of targeted arrests and detention of male members of the ethnic Tamil population by the government etc. Therefore, many women have found themselves without any male ‘protection and support’ and outside their conventional and cultural concepts of family. Single women have been facing harassment, the threat of rape and also rape in many instances. Rape given social taboo is a difficult issue for women to raise and rape by State actors more so given the risk not only to the women’s lives but also to their family members. Therefore even when women are raped they do not file a case against the perpetrators.
Under Sri Lankan law while rape is an offence against the State the victim per se receives no remedy. In many other jurisdictions women are provided compensation, especially in cases where State actors are perpetrators. However in Sri Lanka apart from rape being an offence which is very difficult to prove, once proven the accused is sentenced and the women is said to be served justice.
The Sri Lankan government needs to provide speedy justice for the victims of rape by the military and other State actors and provide compensation for the victims. The Sri Lankan government must make a commitment to prosecute military personal and not hinder court proceedings as it has done in several cases. It must also put in place a local system of compensation for victims of rape, especially in the cases where where State actors have been perpetrators. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Cases of detention and rape from the North are constantly transferred to the Anuradhapura Courts where the language of the Court is Sinhala. This ensures that the victim is left in the dark about court proceedings and places the victims and family members of those detained in a new environment. Victims are also forced to travel for hearings which is a cost most times women cannot bear.
While the fighting may have stopped today, in the post war situation, women continue to face violence. In the last six months there have been 28 reported cases of death mostly among young women in Jaffna alone and many of these deaths are either murder or suicides as per Jaffna hospital officers. It is difficult to claim that these have been carried out by agents of the State or political groups, and the perpetrators could be members of the family or community. What is clear is that there continues to be a climate of insecurity and perpetrators are confident of being able to carry out such acts, while the victims are forced to submit to a culture of fear, shame and secrecy.
Trafficking – Since the end of the war there are increased reports of women and girls being trafficked. Recently a statement was made by the head of the National Child protection authority warning parents of the North to be vigilant and protect their girl children as many were found as victims of trafficking. There have been several cases where disabled women have also been trafficked. Given the current military presence and surveillance, it is indeed a matter of concern how traffickers are able to bypass several check points and take young girls and women across to other parts of the country.
In one incident a member from a political armed organisation was found to be taking young disabled women across to Colombo promising them work in the film industry. However no action has been taken as it would incur the wrath of this member of the political group. The police have also been inactive in this matter owing to this political influence. The Sri Lankan government needs to take steps to apprehend the military and political personnel involved in this trafficking cartel and ensure women and girl children from the North and East have mobility free of harassment and abduction.
Presidential Task Force Rules – The civilian administration and local elected bodies continue to be circumvented by the central government that has established a Presidential Task Force that decides policy and provides approval for all projects in the North. No organization in the North or the east has been granted permission for psycho social intervention. This denial of a basic health care service for people who have undergone severe trauma and faced violence as a result of the war is deplorable, unjust. The government has set up mental health units at the government hospitals. However, these are neither safe nor gender sensitive spaces for women to talk regarding the war, violence faced during the war, rape, detention or the disappearance of their loved ones. This denial is a denial of healing and mental wellbeing of a whole ethnic community that faced immense violence. The same need to be addressed immediately. Even the LLRC did not allow women to grieve and it was noticed by several witnesses that there was impatience and a lack of sympathy from the commissioners themselves who berated the women for crying and moved on to other cases if the woman was unable to recompose herself. They also suggested that a few women should speak on behalf of the multitudes of women who had gathered there to report the abductions of their loves ones – sons, husbands, brothers and other loved ones.
The Sri Lankan government has reiterated its commitment to peace and reconciliation time after time in the last two years. However, the actions of the government fail to convince us of this commitment. The Sri Lankan government must ensure that it addresses the continuing suffering of all communities, especially those from areas that faced the brunt of the war. It needs to restore civil administration in the North, hand over administration from the military to civil bodies and prosecute State actors who have engaged in gross human rights violations, and take steps to find solutions for the problems faced by women.
 Mullikulam in Mannar and Sampoor in Trincomalee are well known examples of the same.
 Currently only Sinhala people have been provided land under the Mahaweli scheme in the recent past. No Tamil or Muslim villagers are informed of the same through the State as it is done for the Sinhalese.
 Interview with a woman in Jaffna who was arrested and detained, 2009-2010. interview with women in Mannar.
 Interview with Mother of detainee, Killinochchi.
 As per data gathered by a legal aid organization.
 Dehiwala Railway Station bomb blast case HC/9429/99
 Town Hall bomb blast HC/891/02
 MC/20265/01 — HCV/REV/131 — HCA/53/2006
 Information gathered from two sources working in the North who were faced with this issue and do not wished to be named.
 Witness account at the LLRC hearing.