by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, July 18, 2018
Military authorities in Sri Lanka have been providing incorrect information about sexual abuse by its soldiers and officers while on a UN peacekeeping mission.
A joint press release issued on Tuesday (17) by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) has detailed the attempts by the Sri Lanka military to mislead the Right to Information (RTI) inquiry.
A confidential UN investigation had earlier identified 134 Sri Lankans alleged to have sexually exploited nine boys and girls in Haiti from late 2004 to mid-2007.
Responding to a request by a journalist on details of suspected perpetrators and action taken against them, the Sri Lanka ministry of defence (MOD) had told the country’s Right to Information commission that “only 3 had been involved”.
This contradicts a previous statement by the Government of Sri Lanka to the UN Committee Against Torture, which said 23 men were convicted in connection with the sexual violations in Haiti.
The military had also tried to conceal the fact that the victims in Haiti included young boys.
The UN’s inquiry is entitled “Investigation report on Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of children at MINUSTAH” but the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence refers to it as the “Investigation report on Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Minor Girls”, obscuring the fact that male children were sexually abused.
Uthayan Journalist Dileep Amuthan had filed the RTI request in September 2017.
The military had been trying to escape from providing the details under the excuse of ‘national security’, which has resulted in an appeal to the RTI commission.
The next hearing is scheduled for August 7.
Factual errors in the MOD submission to the Commission have been brought to the attention of RTI Chair Mahinda Gammampila and other commissioners in a letter by JDS.
The joint statement by the ITJP and JDS, published in full below.
Haiti: More than a decade and still hiding
Johannesburg/Berlin: Sri Lanka needs to respond openly to a Right to Information (RTI) Commission request for information about how it held accountable 134 UN peacekeepers sent home from Haiti a decade ago for alleged child sexual exploitation. The RTI request by a journalist asked for detailed information about the officers repatriated, the allegations against them, the findings of any Court of Inquiry or Court Martial process and details of disciplinary action or prosecutions.
“It is not acceptable for the military to hide behind arguments of national security when it comes to transparency about criminal accountability for soldiers sexually violating children they were supposed to protect,” said executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project, Yasmin Sooka. “It is ludicrous that the Ministry of Defence is claiming that full transparency – rather than the crimes committed – might damage the country’s reputation a decade later; it is this secrecy that damages Sri Lanka’s reputation”.
A confidential UN investigation at the time identified 134 Sri Lankans alleged to have sexually exploited nine Haitian boys and girls from late 2004 to mid 2007. The UN’s inquiry report said, “the acts of sexual exploitation and abuse were frequent, occurred usually at night, and at virtually every location where Sri Lankan military were deployed”.
“In its submission to the RTI request, the Ministry of Defence has failed to give any information about the domestic justice process required to be initiated once the soldiers reached home – instead they just claim they cannot reveal any information from the UN inquiry because it is confidential,” said Bashana Abeywardane of Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. “All this makes you wonder if there actually was any further investigative and judicial process in Sri Lanka – more so when you look at the discrepancy in numbers emanating from the Government.”
In its RTI submission the Legal Officer of the MOD said “roughly about 100 peacekeepers” had been repatriated “but only 3 had been involved”. This contradicts a previous statement by the Government of Sri Lanka to the UN Committee Against Torture, which said 23 men were convicted in connection with the sexual violations in Haiti. Bizarrely the MOD officer seemed to be aware there had been public statements about accountability but still contradicted them.
There has also been an attempt to hide the fact that the victims in Haiti included young boys. The UN’s inquiry is entitled “Investigation report on Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of children at MINUSTAH” but the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence refers to it as the “Investigation report on Alleged Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Minor Girls”, obscuring the fact that male children were sexually abused. One Haitian boy in the UN report said he had both anal and oral sex with more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers.
“Given what we and several UN reports have found about the extent of male sexual violence committed by the Sri Lankan Army, this comes as no surprise,” said Ms. Sooka. “You can’t just make something you don’t like go away by re-naming a UN report”.
The RTI appeals process reveals delays by the military and attacks the credibility of the applicant. First the Army asked for the identity card of the applicant even though he had already supplied it and later said they were hesitant to release the information to him because they had a Military Intelligence report on him. The RTI Commission has however stated the background of a person making a request is not grounds for refusal.
“This is the typical approach of shoot the messenger – attack the person asking pertinent questions you don’t want to answer,” said Bashana Abeywardana. “The Government won’t say what happened to 23 soldiers allegedly convicted in connection with sexual violence in Haiti and instead hides behind the usual excuses, namely saying:
1. these are internal procedures;
2. the information could be misused for propaganda or to tarnish
the image of the country;
3. it was a long time ago;
4. only 3 people were “involved” (not 23 as previously stated);
5. the information is already in the public domain;
6. there are privacy concerns regarding releasing any information
from a Court of Inquiry;
7. the UN investigation report is confidential and cannot be
8. this could damage international agreements.”
The RTI Commision meets again on 7 August. The ITJP and JDS call upon the RTI Commission to demand transparency from the MOD regarding the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in respect of children in Haiti.☐
17 July 2018