Sexual Predation of Morally Challenged Sri Lankan Army Men

by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 10, 2008

“Medicolegal reports were written by 17 doctors that supported the allegations of torture in Sri Lanka made by 184 Tamil men who had been referred during this period…

Of the 184 men, 38 (21%) said they had been sexually abused during their detention.”…

Shame is a very real deterrent to seeking all forms of help for both male and female victims of rape…

Torture is defined by the UN as the deliberate infliction of physical and psychological pain by or with the acquiescence of a person acting in an official capacity, with one of several intentions including the intimidation of the victim or third parties. It is an aggravated form of degrading and inhuman treatment. Sexual abuse in detention is always torture. Rape is an attack dominated by feelings of power and anger, rather than being primarily an expression of sexual desire.

We believe that sexual abuse of Tamil men in detention is common in Sri Lanka. Although in this sample the proportion was 20%, the true number is probably higher as some will not have reported it.”

It should be kept in mind that the issue of torture reported by Peel et al in 2000 consists of a sample of 184 Tamil men. An equal number of Tamil women, if studied, would have provided more sensational revelations on the issue of torture under detention.

According to a news item in the Island of Oct. 5, today (Oct.10th) is supposed to be the 59th anniversary of the establishment of the Sri Lankan (SL) Army. So, I wish to focus attention on one issue in which the SL Army’s name has got smeared – that of sexual predation. This is a sensitive issue, which the paid roof-top barkers of the status quo such as Dayan Jayatilleka of the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission in Geneva and those living in other salubrious locations, would not dare to touch. Here is a report on the issue by Thalif Deen (on the UN beat), that appeared in the Sunday Times (Colombo) of November 4, 2007.

108 Lankan soldiers in Haiti sex scandal

by Thalif Deen at the United Nations

NEW YORK – The United Nations will try to persuade the Sri Lankan government to prosecute — to the fullest extent of the law — the 108 soldiers who were serving with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (Minustah) for alleged sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors, including prostitution.

The charges may include rape — which is constituted a “war crime” in the context of military conflicts — involving children under 18 years of age. The United Nations will also seek the assistance of the government to help provide compensation — which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars — to victims of the crime.

A UN source told The Sunday Times that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would monitor what action the government proposed to take against the 108 soldiers who were part of a 950-member contingent from Sri Lanka.”If they are found guilty, they should be punished for their crimes under the criminal justice system in the country,” he said.

The UN would be very unhappy, he said, if only administrative and disciplinary actions were taken against the soldiers. The action taken by the government or military courts will also determine whether the UN will deploy Sri Lankan soldiers in future peacekeeping operations.

Asked how many soldiers would be repatriated, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters Friday that all 108 soldiers would be repatriated on disciplinary grounds. The total number is one of the biggest single withdrawal of soldiers from a UN peacekeeping mission.

The government, however, has taken the unilateral action for the repatriation of the Sri Lankan battalion’s second in command (a Lt. Colonel) and two Company Commanders (Majors) for failure to exercise command responsibilities in accordance with military norms and standards.

Asked about the nature of the charges, Ms. Montas said the allegations were against members of the Sri Lankan battalion stationed in a variety of locations in Haiti, and were of a “transactional sex” nature. She also acknowledged that they involved prostitution, including in some cases with minors. Asked about penalties for the soldiers, she pointed out that UN peacekeepers were under their national jurisdictions. UN Headquarters, she said, would follow up as per standard procedures.

In cooperation with the Haitian authorities, MINUSTAH, Sri Lanka and the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Services are assessing the situation and have begun discussions on ways and means to bring assistance to the victims, Ms. Montas added.

A UN statement said the United Nations and Sri Lanka “take this matter very seriously and reiterate their shared commitment to both the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to best practices in peacekeeping.” Asked for comments, a government source in Colombo told the Sunday Times: ”The whole story is disturbing. But we have taken immediate action.” He said an investigative group, which included Maj-Gen Mohanthi Peiris, Chief Legal Officer of the Sri Lanka Army was sent to Haiti immediately. “The alleged miscreants are being repatriated immediately. They will be charged on disciplinary grounds,” he added. Meanwhile, Rohan Abeywardene adds he has acted promptly in recalling 108 soldiers and two officers.

They were scheduled to arrive here over the weekend. A top level army team comprising two brigadiers and two colonels who had been dispatched to Haiti on October 04 no sooner the allegations were made known to the Sri Lankan government had returned after conducting preliminary investigations.

The complaint against the Lankan soldiers had been lodged by an NGO. Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said that further action against these men would be taken once the UN Office of Internal Oversight Service (OIOS) finalised its investigations. In this regard Sri Lanka has tasked one of its Military Police officers serving there to assist the UN. Sri Lanka continues to have several hundred more soldiers serving in Haiti.

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According to the same military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara, “Despite severe constraints, Sri Lanka continues to contribute about 1,000 personnel for UN-led peacekeeping operations in the Caribbean Island of Haiti” (The Island, Colombo, Oct.9, 2008). So, get this correct: the SL army folks are still making merry in Haiti, despite 108 of their guys being caught “for alleged sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors, including prostitution,” eleven months back.

Now, let’s see whether our Sri Lankan (de facto) Commander-in-Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he addressed the 63rd session of the UN general assembly late last month, made a heartfelt, sincere apology to the UN assembly, especially to the people of Haiti, on the shameful, sexual predation issue in which over 100 of his loyal soldiers were literally and figuratively, caught “pants down.” According to the complete text, (as I scanned provided by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Sept.24, 2008), while this de facto C-in-C addressed grandeously issues as divergent as the global food crisis, the struggle of Palestinians for Statehood, the LTTE, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s speech in 1904, child soldier, pedophiles, pornography, drug dealers, insecurity of cyberspace, and dhammapada, he never ever addressed the sexual predation issues committed by the soldiers under his command. Here is a relevant quip from his text: “insecurity of the cyber space that has not only helped corrupt the minds of our children but also exposes them to predators such as paedophiles, drug dealers and pornographic sites. Sri Lanka has banned pornographic and similar destructive sites from being available through ISP providers.” The C-in-C ofthe Sri Lankan army never reported to the 63rd UN General Assembly, about what disciplinary actions he has taken against the 108 SL soldiers (as well as the ‘de jure’ C-in-C, Sarath Fonseka), who had committed ‘war crimes’ in Haiti.

The sexual predation issue of SL soldiers is not limited to the “war crimes” committed on Haitian soil, but also on the blessed Sri Lankan soil. For the record, I provide a report authored by M. Peel, A. Mahtani, G. Hinshelwood and D. Forrest (for the Medical  Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London) that appeared in the respected Lancet medical journal of June 10, 2000. Some revelations of sadistic behaviour made in this report about the conduct of the SL armed forces, whose activities the C-in-C President Rajapakse, feels very proud of, would make any decent human shudder on the amorality of SL soldiers.

The Sexual Abuse of Men in Detention in Sri Lanka

M. Peel, A. Mahtani, G. Hinshelwood and D. Forrest

Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ.

[courtesy: The Lancet, June 10, 2000; vol. 355; pp. 2069-2070]

To estimate the frequency and consequences of the sexual abuse of men in detention in Sri Lanka, we reviewed records of all Sri Lankan men who had been referred to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture between January 1997 and December 1998. Those on whom medicolegal reports had been written were identified and the necessary information extracted. For the purposes of this paper, sexual abuse comprises assaults to the genitals, non-consensual sexual acts, and objects pushed through the anus. Rape was classed as non-consensual anal penetration with a penis.

Medicolegal reports were written by 17 doctors that supported the allegations of torture in Sri Lanka made by 184 Tamil men who had been referred during this period. During the interview and examination, an assessment was made about the demenour of the patient, and the reliability of his history. 74 (40%) were aged between 25 and 30 at the time of the analysis, so they would have been several years younger when they were detained and tortured by the Sri Lankan authorities, principally the army. 25 (13%) were younger than 25 when they were first seen at the Medical Foundation, 71 (38%) were aged 30-40 years, and 14 (6%) were older than 40. There was no significant difference in the proportion of each age-group who said they had been sexually abused.

Of the 184 men, 38 (21%) said they had been sexually abused during their detention. Three (7%) of the 38 said they had been given electric shocks to their genitals, 26 (68%) had been assaulted on their genitals, and four (9%) had sticks pushed through the anus, usually with chillies rubbed on the stick first. One said he had been forced to masturbate a soldier manually, three had been made to masturbate soldiers orally, and one had been forced with his friends to rape each other in front of soldiers for their ‘entertainment’.

Of the men who said they had been sexually abused, 11 reported being raped as part of that sexual abuse; this represents 5% of the total number of men on whom reports were written. The men who had been raped were much younger, on average, than the men who said they had not been raped. This suggests that the soldiers choose the younger and more vulnerable men to rape.

Of the 38 men who had been sexually abused, only four (10%) had scarring of the genitals, and none of them were found to have significant scarring around the anus. Since there are very rarely any physical signs caused by acute sexual assault of men (1), it is not surprising that there were so few men with physical signs of their sexual abuse. The injuries were: thickening and tenderness of fine 1-2 cm on urethra of a man who described a soldier pushing an object inside his penis; a scar on the base of shaft of penis of a man who said that soldiers had repeatedly slapped a heavy desk drawer shut on it; an irregularly defined defect in the foreskin of a man who said that soldiers had tied some string around his penis and pulled, tearing off a piece of his foreskin; and a cigarette burn on the scrotum of a man who said that soldiers had stubbed cigarettes out on his genitals.

Of the 184 men, 45 (24%) described a range of psychological symptoms that included difficulty getting to sleep, waking with nightmares, jumpiness and irritability, behaviour to avoid being reminded of the detention, and depression. These are all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not enough to be consistent with the full diagnosis. Of these, only two (5%) gave a history of sexual abuse. 43 (23%) of the men described disturbance of their sleep as their only psychological symptom. Of these, five (13%) had a history of sexual abuse. Two (1%) men were anxious, but had no other psychological symptoms. 65 (35%) of the men said that they did not have any psychological symptoms. Of these, ten (26%) gave a history of sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse in detention starts with forced nudity, which many of the Sri Lankan detainees described. This is usually associated with verbal sexual threats and mocking, which adds to the humiliation and degradation of being tortured. In 37 (20%) of the men in this study, this psychological sexual abuse, and 5% were raped by or at the instigation of their captors.

There is some awareness of sexual assault in detention in Sri Lanka in the general population, and for those to whom this happened, it was a form of physical assault used in the course of interrogation. Rape of men in detention has never been discussed in the press, so those who had been raped would not have been prepared. Most said they had been taken out individually by the soldiers on guard and raped. Most were not able to describe the detail of the rape, because they did not have the language to explain what happened. They felt that they had been picked because they were young. Most were telling of the experience for the first time in their review at the Medical Foundation. Most of these men had not told the authorities, particularly because they were too ashamed. Shame is a very real deterrent to seeking all forms of help for both male and female victims of rape.

Other difficulties for male rape victims are caused by common myths about male rape, for example, the belief that men cannot get an erection and ejaculate under duress. However, it is well-recognised that males can be physiologically sexually aroused by emotions including anger, fear and pain. [2] It is also believed that someone who had been raped would not be emotionless when describing the experience. In the initial description of the (female) ‘rape-trauma syndrome’, victims were said to exhibit one of two styles, the ‘expressive’ and the ‘controlled’. In one study [3] 79% of male rape victims were classed as ‘controlled’ – calm, controlled, or subdued. The other common myth is that the guards, not being homosexual themselves, would not want to commit homosexual acts. Again, however, the evidence suggests that the motivation for sexual assault of men is the demonstration of complete control over the victim,[2] and that the perpetrators do not perceive themselves or their acts as homosexual.[4]

Torture is defined by the UN as the deliberate infliction of physical and psychological pain by or with the acquiescence of a person acting in an official capacity, with one of several intentions including the intimidation of the victim or third parties. It is an aggravated form of degrading and inhuman treatment. Sexual abuse in detention is always torture. Rape is an attack dominated by feelings of power and anger, rather than being primarily an expression of sexual desire.

We believe that sexual abuse of Tamil men in detention is common in Sri Lanka. Although in this sample the proportion was 20%, the true number is probably higher as some will not have reported it.

Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture, and as such must prevent, investigate, and punish all cases of torture. The authorities in Sri Lanka must take action now to stop the torture, sexual assault, and rape of detainees.

[1] Howitt J, Rogers D. Adult Sexual Offences and Related Matters. In: McLay WDS, ed. Clinical Forensic Medicine, London, Greenwich Medical Media, 1996; 193-218.

[2] Groth AN, Burgess AW. Male rape; offenders and victims. Am J Psychiat 1980; 137: 806-10.

[3] Kaufman A, Divasto P, et al. Male rape victims: noninstitutionalized assault. Am J Psychiatr 1980; 137: 221-23.

[4] Sagarin E. Prison homosexuality and its effect on post-prison sexual behavior. Psychiatry 1976; 39: 245-57.

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Some thoughts on the above report by Peel et al.

It should be kept in mind that the issue of torture reported by Peel et al in 2000 consists of a sample of 184 Tamil men. An equal number of Tamil women, if studied, would have provided more sensational revelations on the issue of torture under detention. Peel et al. had noted the following:

“Shame is a very real deterrent to seeking all forms of help for both male and female victims of rape.” True, it may be. But shame is also a real deterrent for the Presidents and army commander in chiefs to accept blame and responsibility. That is why this issue of sexual predation by SL army men is toned down in official communiqués, public posturings and citations from Dhammapada holy text and why there is a lack of action to punish those responsible.

“Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture…”. This is true as well. But it will not prevent sexual predation by SL army men, since the underlying ethnic factor in recruitment to the SL army (since 1962) is not overtly emphasized. Almost 99 percent of SL army men are Sinhalese ethnics, and this will not be openly acknowledged by the President, and other authorities. As such, torture perpetrated by the SL army men on Tamil ethnics cannot be minimized, both for its effect on the individual victims or its effect on the community as a whole.