News / Asia

    Q&A with John Sifton: Abuse Allegations in the Sri Lankan Military

    FILE - Sri Lankan military personnel march during the country's 66th Independence Day celebrations in the central town of Kegalle, about 40 kms from the capital Colombo.
    FILE - Sri Lankan military personnel march during the country's 66th Independence Day celebrations in the central town of Kegalle, about 40 kms from the capital Colombo.
    Frances Alonzo
    Startling new abuse allegations have popped up again against the Sri Lankan military. However, what makes these allegations different is that there is mobile phone video of women recruits suffering abuse at the hands of more senior soldiers. The Sri Lankan military has accepted the authenticity of the video and says an investigation is to be carried out by the country's military police. 
     
    John Sifton, the Asia Advocacy Advisor with Human Rights Watch, explained to VOA's Frances Alonzo that abuse allegations by the Sri Lankan military are not new, but there is hope that the admission by the government may lead to more accountability within the ranks of the military.
     
    SIFTON: The allegations came to light in late April. The Sri Lankan military has pledged to investigate them. But, this is indicative of the fact that the Sri Lankan military has a terrible record of sexual violence against the general population. And if this is how they treat their own recruits, one can only imagine how bad the abuses are against ordinary Tamil civilians and Sri Lankan civilians. There was a very big report that came out recently about sexual violence by the military. Quite simply put, the Sri Lankan military has a terrible record. 
     
    ALONZO: So what happens now? What recourse do these women have?
     
    SIFTON: There is going to be an investigation according to the Sri Lankan Army. But this will be a military police and military justice investigation. And it obviously doesn’t have the same amount of transparency that we would like to see in a civilian setting.  Generally speaking, of course, the Sri Lankan military and the Sri Lankan government don’t have a great record of transparency or accountability for abuses. These allegations have not been made in a vacuum.  Incredibly serious violations of sexual abuse have been made against the Sri Lankan military last month, last year, the year before, in context of the final conflict against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. And there is a whole slew of allegations against them that have yet to be investigated properly.  So the fact that they are investigating or say they are investigating this recent case is an exception to the rule.
     
    ALONZO: Who will hold them accountable? What is that check and balance for the military? Is there one?
     
    SIFTON: There is a military justice system and one can hope that perhaps the fact that there was a video of these attacks and that it is unambiguous that they occurred and that they have been admitted that perhaps some members of the military will be held accountable. But the problem is really on a systemic level. Regardless of who committed these specific abuses, a bigger question is, will any high level officials in the Sri Lankan military ever be held accountable for the fact that they allow their forces to engage in abuses as a matter of course, as a systemic issue, and fail to hold them accountable. People who allow an entire military structure to enjoy almost complete impunity in terms of rape, sexual abuse, and other abuses against Tamil civilians, they should be held accountable for that as well, not just for the actual physical acts of soldiers, but for their dereliction of duty and their failures hold their own forces accountable.
     
    ALONZO: What you are describing is a little demoralizing. It just seems as though they can come across and say “Yes, the video exists. Yes, we admit it. Yes, we are investigating.” And that’s the end of it.
     
    SIFTON: Unfortunately, this is all too common with Sri Lanka. I mean, there was a study published in March by the South African human rights lawyer and UN advisor, Yasmin Sooka, who was also on a UN committee that is investigated crimes by Sri Lanka during the civil war. And it alleged a whole set of incredibly terrible sexual abuse cases of ethnic minority Tamils. I mean it was really disgusting stuff.  This is all after the civil war that raged until 2009. And to quote directly from her report, she says quote, “the highest levels” of Sri Lanka’s government were complicit in the crimes. Unfortunately this is all too common with the Sri Lankan military.  They rack up these terrible allegations against them and they show almost no interest in holding anybody accountable.
     
    ALONZO: So now, in your view, through your experience, what will happen now? What’s next?
     
    SIFTON: Unfortunately, nothing will happen if the norm carries on. The fact that there was video footage and they’ve pledged to investigate, suggest that perhaps a few low level soldiers will be held accountable. But almost certainly there won’t be any higher level accountability.  But with that said, governments from the United Kingdom, to the United States, to Australia - all governments that have regular dealings with Sri Lanka are beginning to realize that this is a country with a government that has no interest in holding its own agents accountable for human rights abuses and it’s starting to have an impact on the country’s bilateral relationships across the board.  They are suffering from military to military assistance issues, I mean there are all kinds of things the Sri Lankan government is starting to realize they are not going to enjoy because of their horrible human rights record. And we can hope that because of that pressure and their increasing isolation in the international community that they will start to think, “Wow, we really need to crack down on this impunity. We can’t just have a military that runs wild and does whatever it wants to do."

    You May Like

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    China Seeks On-Off Switch for Internet

    Public asks whose security is cybersecurity law aiming to protect

    UN Human Rights Chief: Burundi May Explode Into Ethnic Violence

    Burundian government accuses the UN of a campaign of distortion

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora