A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
There have been reports of an alleged abduction and rape of an eleven-year-old girl by a group of Navy officers, and of another nine-year-old girl treated in a similar manner. In the first case, the soldiers have been serving at Karainagar Navy base have been deployed to patrol Ureddikulam, Urkatturai, Karainagar city and Kytes. Seven were initially arrested and their names are Ajith Kumara, Rupasinghe Aarachilage Chamara Indika, Nadira Dilshan Ratnayake, Kudabalage Jayaweera, Indika Kumara Vithanarachchi, Ranasinghe Sumith Subash and Vikum Senage Piyasiri Dissanayake, all serving the Karainager Navy base.
After the news of these rapes spread, the parents of the victims were threatened and they are reported to be living in fear. It is under these circumstances that an identification parade was held at the local magistrate’s courts, where all seven suspects were brought. The eleven-year-old girl, who earlier made a statement about the kidnapping and gang rape, failed to identify the sailors. There are serious grounds on which to believe that the girl was acting under stress and in fear as she and her parents have been threatened for exposing the rape. The medical report has confirmed that the girl was raped.
However, the Navy officers were released on personal bail. Personal bail means signing a guarantee to appear in court, and if one does not appear then the amount given has to be paid to the court. One was given an order for personal bail at the amount of rs. 250, and the amount of rs. 5,000 was set for three others.
The rape of a young child by members of the armed forces is a serious crime. The fact that the area where this happened is now under the control of the armed forces is another aspect which adds to the weight of the crime. Naturally, people in these areas live in great fear of the armed forces. Now that a report of a serious crime has been lodged against seven officers, the families of victims and the entire neighborhoods would be living in serious fear. The girl’s failure to identify the perpetrators of the crime is quite likely to be due to such fear. She may even have been instructed by adults not to identify the perpetrators because her life and the life of her family would be in serious jeopardy if she does so.
It is the duty of the leaders of the armed forces to guarantee security to those who report crimes committed by armed forces personnel, particularly in areas that are under the control of the armed forces, as there is no one who can guarantee the safety of people except the leaders of the armed forces themselves. Even the police cannot be expected to be in a position to guarantee security to the victim and her family, given the overwhelming presence of the armed forces. However, there is no evidence to support that the leaders of the armed forces and, in particular, the leadership of the Navy, has taken adequate measures to guarantee such security.
It is also the duty of the government, and the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development in particular, to ensure the security of the civilians living in these areas. Of particular importance is the security of young children. There is no indication that the government is making any effort to guarantee such security in this instance and the normal situation that prevails in the country is that the government and the Defence Ministry promotes impunity.
There have been protests in the streets by people demanding action on the part of the armed forces and the government. However, the usual response to such protests by the government is to ignore them.
Thus, while a heinous crime against two children has been reported, there will in all likelihood be no serious attempt to guarantee proper investigations and the prosecution of the offenders.
The fact is that, now, Sri Lanka does not have a public justice system. Any of the developments towards a public justice system that happened during the British colonial times and that were continued in the first few decades after independence have now been deliberately displaced and dismantled. The essential features of a public justice system are a government-funded and well-managed system of receiving and investigating into complaints, done through the police, an independent and impartial prosecution system, and a competent, committed and independent judiciary. All that is now lost. There is public understanding of this loss.
Now everything depends on political influence and monetary power. Political influence prevails even over monetary power. This is the fate of all Sri Lankans now and these two cases of the rape of children by Navy officers is a stark exposure of the fate of every person in the country.
Sri Lanka today is one of the most backward and primitive places when looked at from the point of view of the possibilities of justice meted out through a functioning public justice system. Unfortunately, even an issue as important as this has not become a part of the public discourse in Sri Lanka. While there are private murmurs about Sri Lanka as a lawless place, there is hardly any attempt to develop an organized resistance against the displacement and dismantling of justice.
To be without the assistance of a public justice system is essentially akin to slavery. The rapes of these two children at the hands of the country’s armed forces personnel and the aftermath, in which justice has been completely denied, makes the point starkly clear that between slaves and the people of Sri Lanka, there is not much of a distinction.
No government that fails to maintain a functional public justice system could be considered a legitimate government. The situation is even worse when a government deliberately destroys the public justice system. The Rajapaksa government’s serious lack of legitimacy is being sharply expressed in these two incidents of the rape of children at the hands of officers of the armed forces.