28 May 2017

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST MEN AND BOYS IN CUSTODY: SRI LANKA’S OPEN SECRET?

A report published by the All Survivors Project– working in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles and a number of Sri Lankan experts – on the 16th of May 2017 documents Sri Lanka’s untold (and unknown) legacy of sexual violence against men and boys, especially in the context of police custody and administrative detention. The preliminary findings of this report lend credence to allegations contained in the OISL Report that ‘men were as likely to have been victims of sexual violence as women’ during the conflict period. Drawing from interviews conducted with lawyers, human rights defenders, medical professionals and male survivors of sexual violence, the report also notes that this practice continues unabated even eight years after the cessation of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict.
The report has been published at a critical juncture when Sri Lanka is grappling with the contours of its judicial/non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms and is also attempting to reform its flawed counterterrorism legal regime. As noted in the report, Sri Lanka’s existing counterterrorism law – the PTA – has been the main instrument that has facilitated the commission of sexual violence against men in police custody and administrative detention. Under the PTA, the confessions made by suspects are admissible as evidence. In addition, the PTA only allows for minimal judicial oversight over administrative detention. These provisions have incentivized the use of torture including sexual violence. Troublingly, SACLS’ preliminary research on the proposed new counterterrorism law – the policy and legal framework of which was recently approved by the Cabinet of Ministers – indicates that its characterization of ‘terrorist offences’ is far wider (and more ambiguous) than even the PTA, with inadequate safeguards in place to protect detainees. The proposed new counterterrorism framework would therefore allow for a larger number of arrests and detentions with minimal judicial oversight. As such, the disturbing pattern of sexual violence against men in police custody and administrative detention is likely to continue in Sri Lanka, potentially on a much larger scale.
The report is also a timely reminder of the need to establish special structures, strategise unique approaches and capacitate the staff of the proposed transitional justice mechanisms to sensitively deal with crimes of this nature. Social stigma, community derision and cultural attitudes would undoubtedly dissuade many male survivors of sexual violence from approaching both judicial and non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms for redress. It is therefore important that these mechanisms adopt victim and witness protection and assistance measures specifically designed to suit male survivors of sexual violence. Moreover, as noted by the Consultation Task Force in volume one of its report, gender sensitivity in prosecuting sexual violence would require empathy towards the perspectives of male survivors as well. This will also entail safeguarding the identity and privacy of male survivors of sexual violence in order to garner their participation in the process.
The allegations relating to sexual violence against men and boys in custody reinforces SACLS’s repeated calls to promptly set up a credible judicial mechanism that can investigate and address Sri Lanka’s post-war impunity gap. Sri Lanka’s continuous failure to do so – as is evident through this report – has perpetuated human rights violations and a culture of impunity in post-war Sri Lanka.

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