The end of the brutal 30 year old war brought with it a hope of reconciliation, peace, development and equality for all. However in the last three years the Sri Lankan State’s lack of commitment to these basic principles have left women in the North and East in a vulnerable position. The lack of livelihood, safety accountability and justice have left women in a state where we are yet to reap the benefits of a nation not in armed conflict.
In the last three years the security of women has deteriorated in several aspects. Women have found themselves in a position of having to take care of the economic and social wellbeing of their family single handedly while ensuring her and her families safety and security.
The continuation of the presidential task force and the PTA prevent women working at the grassroots level to help women who have been affected in the 03 decade old war by providing them counseling. The government’s constant interference in rehabilitation and resettlement activities has hampered the work of these organizations and does not help organizations work in collaboration with the beneficiaries.
The increased military presence in the North and East, apart from creating a sense of fear in the people, has also led violations of rights for women. The military has opened several food and grocery shops, thus curtailing women’s livelihood options in the north. Earlier several women used to earn their livelihood by running small shops. The Military has also been engaging in the sale of vegetables. Women therefore are unable to sell vegetables from their home gardens due to their inability to compete with the military and their fear of doing so. In several places the military has taken over public land and private land alike to create military camps and training centres and they are even engaging in paddy cultivation using the land that has been forcibly taken from poor farmers. Even though the army commander has stated that the army is ready to scale down its presence in the North and east, this is unlikely given the permanent large structures that the army has built in the north and east.1 This statement also comes at the wake of the proposed resolution at the UN calling for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and for additional and more thorough investigations. The Sri Lankan state’s piecemeal measures make us aware that Sri Lanka is not serious about its claim of justice and accountability. Last year’s grease yaka attacks remind us once again of the vulnerable position women are in even though there is a high military presence, which the government has stated is for the security of the people.
Women in the North and East have complained of several instances of harassment and violence at the hands of the military, paramilitary and government officers, apart from the violence that women face within their homes and in the community. This increase in violence by people in authority has placed women in a particularly vulnerable position, unable to take any recourse.
The Mannar rape case in March 2001 where two women were raped, the two women who were raped at the Rettaivaikkal detention in May 2009 and had to leave the country due to harassment from the military, the Vishwamadu rape case of June 2010 by the military – these are but a few examples of the violence women continue to face in the hands of the military. The lack of investigation in these cases or the filing of charge sheets or arrests has led to a culture of impunity and created a trend in regards to violence against women. This is reflected in the current rise in violence in the North and the East. Recently there have been several complaints in the North and East of JMO’s refusing to provide medical reports in cases of sexual violence, especially when perpetrated by the military.
Female ex-combatants continue to face harassment by the military and the CID even though they have been released after rehabilitation. They are still required to report to the local military/ police station once a month and have been pressured into marrying or becoming informants if they want the harassment to be stopped. In one case an ex-combatant living in the eastern province was raped by a police officer when she went to register in his station.
Women are still looking for those who disappeared during the war and their kith and kin who have been detained. Even though the government has asked people to provide information regarding those who disappeared it has taken no action regarding the same. In several cases women who went and registered their cases have found themselves being harassed by the military personal to whom they provided the information.
While we welcome the LLRC report it is far from what is required if this country is to move forward. Sri Lanka has a long history of commissions set up to inquire into various human rights violations such as disappearances, however, a cursory look in to the past will show that the recommendations made by these commissions have not been implemented and the offences have continued to occur. The LLRC was also not sensitive to women and the vulnerabilities that they have been placed in even though women were the majority of those who testified at the LLRC sessions.
Even though the government has been engaged in resettlement and we welcome the same, the manner it has been conducted in is far from what is desired. Women have found themselves in shelters not appropriate with no access to water or sanitation and no means of livelihood. They have returned to places that are highly militarized.
We, the North East Women’s Network, call upon the UN and its member states to help Sri Lanka on its road to reconciliation and peace through accountability and justice and to strengthen its domestic mechanisms by ensuring international monitoring. We call upon the Sri Lankan State to view the proposed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council as a tool for the implementation of its vision for a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic community and for ensuring long lasting peace for the women who have lost so much and continue to suffer. The Sri Lankan government has been given an opportunity to make real its promises to the ethnic minorities, especially the women in this country who have suffered from three decades of war. We hope the government will fulfill this promise and make women real citizens of this nation.
Released by the North East Women’s Network as part of the International Women’s Day Campaign (March 08th 2012)