A fresh video released by International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) –a London based human rights watchdog – perhaps illustrates best why a change of dispensation in Sri Lanka has meant almost nothing to the Tamils. The video released on September 13 comes as a huge embarrassment to the Sri Lankan government, seeking to waive an international inquiry into the war-crimes and employ a domestic mechanism to probe it.
The video – of interviews with two Tamil survivors – is a stark reminder of the ‘second-class citizens’ fate that Tamils had to endure despite the change in the government that had promised change and hope. The survivors allege that they were accused of anti-national activities and tortured in spite of the change in regime.
According to a press release by ITJP, Witness one in the video had already undergone repeated torture in the government’s rehabilitation programme for former fighters. The witness says he was a forced-recruit who deserted the LTTE ranks twice. On 18 May 2015, he attended a Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day event for those who died in the last phase of the civil war. Within days he was abducted and taken to an unknown site where his torturers showed him photographs of himself at the event. “I was tied to a bench and beaten with sticks and batons on the soles of my feet. Then they put a petrol-soaked polythene bag over my head and they beat me with cables and wires. I lost consciousness.” He was accused of trying to regroup the LTTE, a charge he denies. He had however assisted the opposition Tamil National Alliance party. “Witness 2” was forcibly recruited by the LTTE aged 16 and injured in the war. When he surrendered he did not turn himself in to the authorities but kept a low profile thinking he was too young to attract attention. After the change of government in January 2015, “Witness 2” thought he’d be safe to go back to his village and join his family. Within a week he was abducted in a “white van”, brutally tortured and gang raped.
The two cases are part of eleven cases documented by ITJP of torture and sexual violence that had occurred in 2015. All the victims (3 women and 8 men) are now outside Sri Lanka.
Earlier this year, an overtly confident Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena in the presidential elections, giving some hopes for Tamils about justice and rehabilitation. The electorate followed it up by defeating his Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) in Parliamentary elections this August, thwarting Rajapaksa's dream of becoming the Prime Minster. However, the electoral defeats of Rajapaksa are of no consequence to Tamils who continue to face discrimination at the hands of Sinhala forces.
A report in July by ITJP had meticulously documented the systematic persecution of Tamils through various forms of torture including rape, abduction, illegal detention and killings. The claims of Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe about putting an end to the 'white-van culture' stood exposed with the report’s well-documented cases of white van abductions that continued through July 2015. Based on the experiences of over 100 Tamils, the report had also sought to draw international attention to the life of Tamils in post-war Sri Lanka.