11th May 2011
This note is based on conversations with 15 former detainees (7 women between 21 and 35 years and 8 men between 21 and 41 years) from villages in the Vanni region (areas previously under LTTE control from where the entire population was displaced during the final phase of the war and have begun to return since late 2009 and presently live under control of the Army). We also met three mothers of former detainees from the same villages, two of whom had already left Sri Lanka for safety reasons. The third parent didn’t know the present whereabouts of her son. Interviews were conducted in the first week of April 2011.
The period of detention of people we met ranged from 8 months to 22 months. The earliest releases were in January 2010 while we also met two persons who had been released in March and April 2011.
We consciously avoid using the words “ex-combatant” and “rehabilitation” as most of those we spoke to had not undergone any activities during detention that we can define as “rehabilitation” and some of those we met were never involved in active fighting or violent acts involving arms. Therefore, we have preferred to use the word “ex-detainee” until there is more clarity.
The following is an overview of the threats, harassment and restrictions issues faced by those interviewed following their release from detention.
Several of the detainees had been fighting cadres of the LTTE but others were not involved in fighting at all. Many had been forcibly conscripted by the LTTE. Most of them said they had received very little “rehabilitation” such as training or counseling while in detention. At least two reported that they got trainings on motor mechanics and masonry respectively, at the tail end of their detention.
Several ex-detainees described the torture they were subjected to while in detention. At least two ex-detainees are still unable to find employment and lead normal lives due to the injuries sustained under torture. Others mentioned that although they were not tortured themselves, they had seen and heard others being tortured.
Some of those we talked to were injured during the war, and some had family members who were killed or injured during the last stages of the war and some have family members still in detention.
3. Release documents
Many had been given official release documents on release. Some documents were in Sinhalese only. But some had not been given any official documents on release.
4. Repeated registrations
All former detainees stated that following their release from detention, they were required to register themselves with government intelligence officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Army Intelligence officers in their area. They were required to submit copies of their release order and identity documents to both agencies. Some were asked to bring photographs when registering while others were photographed by the CID and the Army. In one case, the entire family of a former detainee was photographed. We were told that these photographs are used by both agencies for surveillance purposes.
At least three ex-detainees stated that they had been repeatedly interrogated by the CID and by the Army regarding their links with the LTTE, at the point of registration. There are instances where ex-detainees have been recalled to the Army Camp and questioned on their involvement with the LTTE even after registration and resettlement. On one occasion, the Army demanded that an ex-detainee provided details of where weapons belonging to the LTTE were hidden. The Army and CID had also pressured these ex-detainees to identify others who had connections with the LTTE.
5. Surveillance and visits to ex-detainees’ homes
All ex-detainees stated that the CID and Army visited their homes at least once a week or once every fortnight and checked on their whereabouts and details. The visits were during daytime and latest around 6 in the evening. Army patrols were a daily occurrence in the village. They also said that every time the area commander changed (which happens once a month on average) intelligence officers visit their home and take down or double check their details all over again. The ex-detainees consider these regular checks to be a form of harassment which prevents them from moving out of the village in search of work and also perpetuates the stigma and label of being ex-combatants or terrorists.
A married male ex-detainee also expressed fears and concern about male Army and CID officers visiting his house during the day when his young wife was alone in the house. Another ex-detainee mentioned that the Army would visit his home at night and shout out his name. He believes that these nightly visits are being carried out, under the pretext of surveillance, in order to check whether the women are alone at home.
Several of those interviewed also stated that the level of surveillance had increased significantly following the ‘disappearance’ of a woman ex-combatant from the village in late 2010. This person was a senior LTTE carder who had been released and had returned home to the village. Many believe that she has been taken to India for safety. Following her release, several ex-detainees have been questioned by intelligence officers regarding her whereabouts. Her father and sister were also taken into custody briefly and questioned but were later released.
6. Freedom of Movement
All detainees had been asked to get permission / register with the Army or CID if they travel outside the village. Some are required to register for even an overnight stay, while others mentioned that this requirement was only enforced for long stays of over a week or even a month. Several persons stated that since the home visits by the CID and Army were conducted on an ad hoc basis, they were afraid of being called for an inquiry if they were not present in the village on the day of a visit, and registered their travel details with the local Army officer to avoid further interrogation. Details include, information regarding the place, person and purpose and duration of their visit.
Some ex-detainees stated that they had been informed by the Army that the travel restrictions would be imposed for 6 months following their release. However, the requirement of registration and checkups continues over a year later. Travel restrictions prevent many ex-detainees from seeking employment outside their village. In the case of one ex-detainee who is employed in Mannar town, her parents were frequently questioned and harassed about her whereabouts and work. She has been asked to report regularly to the CID but has not complied with this direction to date.
One girl was warned by the Army that should not go to Jaffna University, but to a University in the south.
7. Freedom of Association and Freedom of Religion
The Army restricts people from gathering for certain ceremonies and meetings in the village. Religious ceremonies to commemorate ‘all souls day’ (a Catholic religious event) on 2nd November 2010, were either banned or looked upon with suspicion by the Army who accused people gathered of commemorating the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Fire crackers were banned on Christmas day and there was an attempt to prevent people from gathering for midnight mass in the village, and a local Catholic Priest had to negotiate with the Army to ensure that Christmas mass could be held. Permission of the Army had to be sought prior to any village level meeting, such as fisheries society, and Army officers attend and observe any such meeting.
8. CID Meeting
In early March, the CID called a meeting of all ex-detainees in the village and asked them to submit applications for livelihood assistance. Applications include personal details and information regarding their background, detention and release. Many of those interviewed believe that this was an information gathering exercise by the CID, particularly following the disappearance of an ex-detainee from the village. Those who provided details to the CID were later criticized by the Army for providing information directly to the CID. Some told us they felt the Army and CID appeared to be having some sort of competition as to who could exert more surveillance and obtain more information.
9. Livelihood Issues
Many of those interviewed face difficulties in finding employment due to the travel restrictions and regular checkups by the Army and CID. Some who attempt to restart their businesses face obstacles by the Army and are forced to rely on traders from Mannar who are able to move freely to and from the village. They also face competition from traders from the South who they believe are encouraged by the Army.
A poet and writer said she finds it difficult to get her writings published due to the stigma of being associated with the LTTE (although she was never a fighting cadre of the LTTE) and that she is unable to earn any income.
Several fishermen complained that their stock of fish was forcibly taken by the Army on several occasions.
One person said fishing equipment and diving gear have also been confiscated by the military and another person said such equipment was banned from April 2011. Fishermen are also prevented from fishing in shallow water based on security reasons.
Many day-fishermen are afraid to leave their homes due to fears for the safety of the women in their family who are left behind without protection. On several occasions the Army has been known to have made improper advances towards women in the village in the absence of any male family member.
10. Threats against families of ex – detainees
We also interviewed the mothers of three ex-detainees. Two of these ex-detainees had left Sri Lanka for safety reasons and their parents were called for interrogation by the Army and questioned regarding their involvement with the LTTE. Following their departure, the families of both ex-detainees have been repeatedly questioned and threatened by the Army and CID who demand that they be returned to Sri Lanka or face arrest in India. Both mothers were summoned to the Counter Subversive Unit in Mannar on 6th April 2011.
Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, Catholic Priest, Diocese of Mannar
Deanne Uyangoda, Law & Society Trust
Ruki Fernando, Law & Society Trust