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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA

CASE STUDY OF TORTURE
SRI LANKA STYLE, 1984

  • Testimony of a Tamil student aged 19, published in Sri Lanka: Island of Terror by E.M.Thornton and R.Niththyananthan - from an interview on 16 September 1984

The army arrived at my home at 5.30 in the morning of 30.4.84 in five trucks and three jeeps. They broke down the doors and smashed the windows and put guns through them. Soldiers poured into my room and pulled me from the bed while other soldiers searched the house.

My father asked why I was being taken away and they said "For questioning ". They would not tell him where I was being taken. I was put in a truck and taken to the next village where another boy was picked up. We were handcuffed with our hands behind our heads. Several boys in the village between the ages of 15 and 25 were rounded up and I was asked whether I knew them. When I said "No" I was kicked.

At 11.30 a.m. we arrived at Palaly camp the biggest in the Northern Province, containing large numbers of army personnel. We were thrown into a cell. By this time it was 12.30. We had been given no food or drink. One of the boys asked for water but it was refused.

I was asked what movement I belonged to and I said I did not belong to any movement. They said I was lying. So the following morning at half past 11 they took me to another camp at Elephant Pass, 50 miles away. No food or water was given on the journey. On the way to Elephant Pass they changed trucks four times as a precaution against attack. We reached Elephant Pass at 12.45 p.m. I was put in a cell.

At 2.0 p.m. they took me to another room for questioning. An army captain was in charge. He asked me what movement I belonged to and I told him I did not belong to a movement. They took off my clothes. I was then told to hang on to an iron bar overhead and they beat me with an S-lon pipe filled with sand. This was repeated eight or nine times.

The other boy arrested with me was brought in and they did the same thing with him. Then they asked him to tell them the names of his friends. He gave them the names of friends and classmates. Then we were told to put on our clothes and taken back to our cells. After half an hour they took the other boy to Palaly camp because they wanted him to identify boys they were going to arrest. They did not find any of the boys - they had escaped to another village.

When they heard this news my captors became angry. They brought me out of the cell and took me to the same place I had been the day before -"the butcher's shop" as I now learnt it was known by the prisoners.

I was told to lie down on the floor. They took off my sarong and tied my ankles. My wrists were put in handcuffs beneath my knees. I was then hung upside down from a cross-bar on the ceiling 10 or 12 feet from the floor. Five guards surrounded me-two beat me with S-lon rods on the feet and two others beat me all over my body. The fifth held his hand over mv mouth to prevent me crying out. The army captain stood watching. After some time he asked me again to name my movement. I said I was a student. He asked other questions such as whether I knew how to use a gun and whether I had been to India. I said "No" to all the questions.

After one hour my torturers took off for a tea break. While they were away someone brought a large cube of ice which he placed on my private parts where it was left for twenty minutes. [This is believed to be used to freeze the tissues to prevent external evidence of injury while still enabling the victim to feel the pain.] The soldiers then started beating me over my private parts. The pain was intense. I cried out and they held a hand over my mouth to stop me. This torture lasted for two hours.

After this I had to yield and untruthfully said that I belonged to the Tigers. I named about 20 people, giving some true and some false names. Only when I had done this did they stop torturing me and put me down. My whole body was swollen and painful and I could not stand up. They forced me to stand, striking me with thick pieces of rope. But I couldn't walk, so they dragged me to a tank of muddy water and put me in it. I bathed my body in the muddy water and after five minutes I was hauled out and taken once more to the same army captain.

After he had seen all the damage to my body, he said, "Why didn't you tell the truth before?" He said that if I had told the truth they wouldn't have beaten me up. I told the captain that I had lied to stop them torturing me and that I was not involved in any movement. He replied, "If you don't confess you will be tortured every day."

So every day for a week they repeated the same torture. Then they gave me a pill which caused my body to become numb. [Other similar reports mention this pill. It is believed that like the use of ice, it is used to mininiise the external evidence of injury to the tissues.]

After that they tortured me again, this time for only half an hour. The following day they gave me the same pill. I didn't swallow it but spat it out when the guards were not looking. So I didn't have the same numbness. They tortured me again, but this time not for so long.

All this time I was kept in a small cell with 10 or 12 other prisoners. We slept on the floor but there was not enough room to sleep properly. When we tried to sleep the guards threw water over us to wake us. They gave us our food through the bars of our cell, a piece of bread in the morning and a little plain rice midday and evening. When we asked for water we were told we could drink our urine.

Every 36 hours we were released, one at a time, to go to the toilet. We were not allowed out to pass urine. We were each given four drachms of water morning and evening for washing. We could not shower or clean our teeth. If we talked to each other the guards poked a rod through the bars and hit us.

When the guards were drunk they opened the cells and pulled out the prisoners and did whatever they liked with them. Many of the boys had been wounded during their arrest. One had damage to his feet. Another had broken ribs and a wound in his side. He lay in the call for 24 hours without treatment. He was not even given a cup of water. Every day they brought new batches of boys from the villages, 30 or 40 at a time. They were asked if they knew me. When they said they didn't, they were beaten up.

One boy had a snake put into his mouth. Some of the boys had chillis put up their back passages and in their nostrils. One boy who resisted arrest and fought with the soldiers made them so angry that they took him to the camp and tortured him with an electric drill, drilling wounds all over his body and he died. There was no inquest. It was given out that he had died while resisting arrest and fighting with the army.

After being tortured, one boy being brought back to his cell picked up a piece of broken glass and later tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach with it. He was taken to a hospital in Colombo to be treated. He was then brought back and his torture began all over again.

On the 21st day I was released. My parents, through an intermediary, paid 50,000 rupees (úl,500) to the army captain to set me free. My father had to sell a piece of land to raise the money. This happens a lot now. The army officers are taking advantage of the situation to become rich.


Comment by authors of Sri Lanka: Island of Terror

When we interviewed him on 16.9.84 he was still badly shaken by his experiences. He was little more than a schoolboy, slight of build, young for his age, simple and unsophisticated in his manner. It would be difficult to imagine anyone less likely to fit the popular concept of a "terrorist" than this quiet and inoffensive young boy.

His story is typical of many in the barbarous cruelties inflicted on hundreds of young Tamil boys by the army and bears eloquent testimony to the complete impunity and unaccountability of the occupation force. Typical also were the "overkill" methods employed in his arrest. The trucks and jeeps, the smashing of doors and windows to arrest one inoffensive young boy underlines the mounting paranoia of the army. The use of torture to extract "confessions" that implicate other innocent boys, while being self-defeating, must obviously feed this paranoia.

Most disturbing is what is apparently a recent development-the extortion of money from parents to obtain their sons' release. This is obviously a lucrative racket and may account for the increasing number of arrests of young boys in the Tamil areas. A government that has given seemingly unlimited powers of life and death, freedom and captivity, to a brutal and sadistic army of occupation must take the ultimate responsibility.

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