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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid