The Australian Government’s insistence that Tamil asylum seekers can return safely to Sri Lanka has been contradicted by the British High Court and detailed evidence showing that refugees have been brutally raped and tortured upon return.
A new Human Rights Watch report on sexual violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan military and security forces emphasises that returned refugees are generally regarded as traitors and Tamil Tigers (LTTE) sympathisers by the Sri Lankan Government.
The British High Court yesterday gave credence to widely held fears for the safety of returned refugees when it blocked the UK Government’s plan to send back a group of Tamils next week.
The 75 rape victims interviewed for the HRW report were arrested between 2006 and 2012 on suspicion of links with the LTTE, which was defeated and destroyed by Sri Lankan Government forces in the war that ended in 2009. Thirty-one were detained after the war finished, including eight in 2012. HRW says new cases continue to be reported.
One 29-year-old Tamil male refugee returned from France in late 2010, "SV", a poet and writer, told HRW that while being questioned about LTTE links in France he was bashed with metal rods and raped after being taken directly to CID police headquarters from the arrivals lounge at Colombo airport.
"I was kept in detention for more than a month. During this time I was questioned and beaten up every day," he said. "I was beaten with hot metal rods on my back and thighs. I was sometimes poked with the end of a hot poker and they kicked my head with metal-toed boots. I was raped many times. Two men would come to my room and one would hold me down. They would take turns."
A 29-year-old female Tamil refugee, "PP", who had been sent back from Africa in 2010 after spending a year in Europe, told HRW she was also taken to CID headquarters immediately she cleared airport customs.
"The officials beat me with metal pipes and plastic rods filled with sand. I was sexually abused and raped five times by officials while I was there. They took turns raping me. I remember that I fainted the first time. When I came to, I saw that I was bleeding from my genitals and was in terrible pain."
While the report does not state that any refugees returned from Australia were among the 41 men, 31 women and three boys under 18 interviewed by HRW, it makes it very clear that Foreign Minister Bob Carr is wrong to claim that Tamils are being returned to a safe environment, as he has done many times.
On 14 February, Carr told a Senate estimates hearing: "I have seen no evidence that returned irregular maritime arrivals are being discriminated against, let alone detained. I have not heard that suggested by anyone."
A 46-year-old Tamil male, "YN", told HRW he fled Sri Lanka for a second time in 2010 as a refugee, only to be sent back and tortured for a second time in Joseph camp, Vavuniya. "They held a gun to my head and threatened to pull the trigger," he said. "I was hung upside down and beaten with truncheons and hot metal rods. I was stripped naked. I was sexually abused by being forced to have oral sex on two or three occasions."
A 36-year-old Tamil female, "YJ", who came from the UK to Sri Lanka for a conference in 2011, said she was detained and questioned by two men in civilian clothes in a small room. "They asked me to sit down and remove my blouse. I refused but a woman police official forcibly removed it," she said. " A few days later two men in civilian clothes came to my room. My hands were tied together and I could not fight them. Both men raped me. They behaved like animals and bit me. They burned me with cigarettes on my breasts and genitals. They left me naked with my hands tied back the whole night."
The Sri Lankan Government spokesman dismissed the claims as "sob stories" from "economic refugees" wanting to settle in a developed country. However, the extent of the depravity of the interrogators cannot be ignored so easily.
The report says that two Tamil men claimed they had a sharp needle inserted in their penis. "In one case this was used to insert small metal balls into the urethra by army personnel; the metal balls were later surgically removed by doctors abroad," it said.
A 45-year-old male,"CR", who was detained in April, 2010, said he was brutalised at Joseph Camp in Vavuniya after being taken off the street in Mullaithivu by six soldiers. "I was raped with small, glass Coke bottles. The officials would do this as they were questioning me.They inserted an iron rod in my penis. I screamed and said I would confess everything." he said.
A 31-year-old male,"WP", who worked as a medic for the Tamil Tigers during the civil war, told HRW that he was released from detention in January, 2010 after five months of torture and beatings.
"On the second day of torture his interrogators pushed a piece of pipe into his anus," the report said. "They then inserted a piece of barbed wire into the pipe and pulled out the pipe. The interrogators then ripped out the piece of barbed wire from his anus causing him to pass out unconscious with pain. Afterwards, "WP" was detained naked in a 1.75 metre by 1 metre cell."
A 16-year-old male, "TR", said he was taken away from his house in Colombo by six men in a white van in December, 2009. When he was released, he fled the country with other refugees in a boat.
"The officials kicked me and burned me with cigarettes. They forced a petrol-infused plastic bag on my head and tried to asphyxiate me. They took my underpants off and groped my genitals. I was raped five or six times. They came to my room at night, some wore civilian clothes, others were in military uniform."
Scores of Tamil refugees have already been returned from Australia by the Gillard Government, and it promises there will be more. This harrowing 140-page report provides enough evidence for a serious review of their policy.
*Fictitious initials were used in the report to hide the identity of victims.
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