Sri Lanka's security forces are still raping and torturing suspects as David Cameron and 50 world leaders prepare for a Commonwealth summit in the country, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. The Prime Minister and Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, have confirmed that they will both attend the gathering in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, from November 15.
The country has 5,676 "outstanding cases" of disappearances - more than any other apart from Iraq. Although the civil war ended in 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has kept the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows anyone to be jailed without charge or trial for up to 18 months. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented 10 cases of suspects being tortured or mistreated in detention since February.
More disappearances have also taken place in recent months. One 30-year-old woman told The Daily Telegraph that she was abducted by men driving an unmarked white van in the northern city of Jaffna on August 12. She was bundled in to the vehicle, blindfolded and driven about 90 miles to the town of Vavuniya. There, she was interrogated, stripped and photographed naked by men she believed were police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department.
Later that evening, several of the men beat her with rods. "I was raped by many men, not just one and it continued until I escaped," she said. "They bit me on my backside and breasts." On August 31, she was blindfolded and placed in a vehicle again. The woman, a mother, feared that she was going to be murdered. Instead she was taken to meet her uncle, who had paid a large bribe to secure her release. She then fled to India and later to Britain, where she is now seeking asylum.
"I could not have taken any more. If I have to go back, I would not survive," she said by telephone from London. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged a 26-year war for a separate homeland until they were crushed by the army in 2009. The woman, a Tamil, acknowledged that she had previously helped the LTTE with information and by working as a courier - along with many thousands of others. She was not charged with any offence.
Doctors who found marks and scars had verified her testimony, said HRW. This new evidence of continuing torture showed the need for greater international pressure on Sri Lanka's government, added the campaign group. Canada has already promised to boycott the Commonwealth summit in Colombo. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, is under pressure from leaders of his country's Tamil minority to follow suit.
Cameron has confirmed that he will go to Sri Lanka, but promised to be "very clear about those aspects of the human rights record in Sri Lanka that we are not happy with". In particular, the Prime Minister will be the first foreign leader to visit Northern Province, the region that suffered most from the civil war - and from the continuing abuses. HRW has urged Cameron to use the summit to demand an independent international inquiry into outstanding cases of disappearances.
Examples of people still missing were highlighted in an investigation by The Daily Telegraph last month. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "Abuses are continuing and people trying to speak. Victims and activists are facing a climate of intimidation. Commonwealth leaders need to remind the Sri Lankan government that the pressure is ongoing and everything will not be fine until justice is done."
Separately, Sri Lanka yesterday expelled two Australian media rights activists for violating vias conditions, a day after they were detained. Keheliya Rambukwella, the information minister, said the pair - Jacqui Park and Jean Worthington - had arrived in the country as tourists but engaged in "anti-government activism" in breach of their visa.