More From Alder's Ledge

July 20, 2013

Romanticized Barbarism

Sexual Violence As A Means Of Ethnic Cleansing
(Open Eyes series)

For as long as there has been war amongst nations of men the use of sexual violence as a method of breaking the will to fight of an opponent has been present on the battle field. As with all other forms of military excesses, rape and sexual violence have always been the burden of noncombatants and civilians. Women and children who have been unable to flee the advancing troops of an attacking army have always been the most targeted group of victims for sexual deviancy amongst soldiers and commandants. Their vulnerability, the lack of meaningful defenses, has always left these victims susceptible to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages, and sexual mutilation.

This brutal reality of war is exactly why the international community created laws to prohibit such actions amongst the signatories of these laws. Nations who have wanted aid and trade agreements with members of these agreements have often been forced to agree to the conditions of existing laws and treaties that state the nature of such atrocities as being illegal and punishable through economic sanctions and judicial reprisals. Sadly however the reality of ethnic conflict and the wars that have spawned from such situations has not reflected the legal ramifications of such agreements. Sri Lanka is just such a case.

A Peace More Brutal Than War

On May 19Th of 2009 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (aka: Tamil Tigers) were defeated by the Sri Lankan Military. The world watched as Sri Lanka promised to bring about peace across the country now that the Tamil Tigers had been militarily defeated. For the West it was a chance to applaud Sri Lanka for what many European countries and the United States referred to as "demonstrating restraint" in victory. The naive notion that Sri Lanka was going to allow the Tamil people to once again live in peace alongside Sinhalese people was prevalent amongst the US and EU. What little concern there was for the political prisoners, concentration camp inmates, and displaced civilians was quickly forgotten as Sri Lanka made one false promise after another. 

The forgotten people of the war was ironically the very people many outsiders viewed as the cause for the war, the Tamil people. These were the people who continued to suffer as "peace" ground their community down under the weight of Sri Lanka's political agendas. Retaliation and reprisals against Tamil civilians had not nor would not end with the coming of so called peace. Instead, police and other security forces took over the role that Sri Lanka's military had played in committing vast atrocities against the Tamil civilian population.

Home invasions, mass arrests, and police harassment began immediately in areas where Tamils had been seen by Sri Lankan officials as supporting the Tamil Tigers. Collective punishment became the trademark of Sri Lanka's politicians. It was the marching orders for police as they swept through Tamil neighborhoods casting a broad net. 

For the Tamil people what followed May of 2009 was a peace more brutal than war. The actions used by Sri Lankan military personnel to crush their will to resist were being ramped up as though to boast the hollow victory. People who had lost everything to two decades of war were now expected to surrender their dignity as well. 

Sodomy and Genital Mutilation

When male combatants are taken by enemy soldiers they naturally expect some abuse. For most it these expectations are limited to verbal and mild physical abuse. A kick or jab of the fists is as much physical contact one might expect. At worst the defeated soldier might expect to be shot or stabbed to death. Sexual violence is usually not the first thing one might fear from an enemy.

It is even more unexpected when the person being taken into custody is a civilian. People in our Western world would be appalled by any form to sexual misconduct by police, military, or government official. We only have to look back at Abu Ghraib to note that, at very least, many in American society find it disturbing and disgusting for our men and women in uniform to use sex as a method of warfare. We here in America typically don't even condone torture (most of us at least). So it would be expected that general outrage would sweep the country if a situation that paralleled the nature of Abu Ghraib had happened to American prisoners here on American soil.

For Tamil men who are rounded up by Sri Lankan security forces this is exactly the sort of thing that they are forced to fear. In Human Rights Watch's "We Will Teach You A Lesson" report the human rights group documents cases of such violence being committed against Tamil men. In a few such cases Tamil men have had sharp needles inserted in their genitals and small metal balls inserted into their urethra. And in each case it has been documented that the security officers have utilized sodomy, rape, genital mutilation, and other sexual acts of violence against Tamil men kept in police custody.

The reason: they are Tamil men accused of, yet not proven to be, supporting the Tamil Tigers.

Yet despite the release of this report in February of 2013 there has been little discussion about these crimes amongst the media, governments, and NGOs across the globe. Even when foreign doctors have had to perform surgery to remove foreign objects from the genitals of Tamil refugees and asylum seekers (thus documenting the crime) the outside world has remained silent.

Despite the ethnicity of the victims being a clear motivation for the heinous crimes being committed against them, these Tamil men are left voiceless by the silence of the outside world. When sexually molested, raped, or sexually tortured these men have few options but to remain silent themselves. By speaking out they risk being ostracized by their own community while making themselves larger targets for other forms of attack by Sri Lankan police. And yet when faced with the reality of why and how these crimes take place the UN and it's member states have refused to take legal actions against the government of Sri Lanka.

Gang Rape And Blindfolds

For Tamil women on the other hand it is almost always expected that sex will be involved when dealing with Sri Lanka's security forces. Whether they are being detained, abducted, or incarcerated long-term; Tamil women are always subjected to some form of sexual violence. The most common however is rape. 

In areas where Sri Lanka wants to drive Tamil civilians out the most prevalent use of sex as a weapon is the abduction of young Tamil women and any lone Tamil woman. Once abducted the victim is taken to either a "black prison" (unofficial detention center) or a local police station where they are raped constantly for days. In addition to rape and gang rapes these victims are sexually tormented by having their breasts and buttocks bitten, burnt, stabbed, and mutilated. Their genital regions are often sodomized and abused even while the official act of rape is not being conducted. This form of sexual abuse can last for days on end, and in some cases weeks. 

Yet it isn't only male Sri Lankan police that conduct such violence against abducted Tamil women and girls. Female Sri Lankan police officers have been reported to have "prepped" the Tamil victims for rape and even taken part in sexual acts of torture on the Tamil victims. These female assailants also are reported to use asphyxiation as a method of subduing a victim by placing plastic bags over the victims' heads till they pass out. 

Once the police are finished with their victim the Tamil women are blindfolded and taken back to their villages or the internally displaced peoples' camp from which they were abducted. The abuse they suffered is apparent by both the wounds inflicted and the infamy the Sri Lankan police have accumulated for themselves.

The guilt and shame that is often associated with such crimes is one of the most lasting scars that these victims will carry. Their nightmares of such events is another. These emotional burdens inevitably drive some victims to self-destruction. While at other times these scars act as constant reminders; reminders that often bring about depression and isolation. 

Once again the outside world has had every opportunity to come along side these victims and rally around them in defense of their basic human rights. With countless organizations documenting the crimes and large international ones like Human Rights Watch releasing documentation on such incidents there can be no meaningful excuse for inaction. After the Bosnian Genocide, in which rape was extensively used as a weapon of genocide, we as a world community did far too little to help the victims. Those that were helped were often given recognition not for the crime itself but for the sad reality that they were the first such victims to receive such attention. Now with Sri Lanka's victims before us the world must ask itself if we can afford to turn away these individuals like we did so many other victims of sexual abuse during times of war and/or ethnic cleansing.

Sex To Survive

One of the most perverse uses of rape as weapon is that when used upon already displaced people. Many of these victims have already been victimized during the conflict and now fact further victimization by so called security personnel. One of the most prolific ways in which sexual abuse is applied by the Sri Lankan security forces in IDP camps and amongst refugees is that of utilizing a perverted practice often referred to as "survival sex". 

Survival sex can most adequately be described as the withholding of basic needs for survival by the authoritarian figure unless sexual services are given in exchange. While some in Sri Lanka's government have accused the victims of prostitution the reality of the sexual violence is that it is committed against them, not by them. Soldiers, police, and government officials in Sri Lanka have all utilized this heinous act of barbarism to fulfill their deviant sexual desires in regions where Tamil families have been displaced. It is so common in fact that Tamil refugees often surprise interviewers by just how easily the topic is addressed in comparison to the what many consider more violent sexual abuses. 

This method becomes efficient in pushing Tamils out of areas by acting upon the nature of the family unit in its desire to safeguard it's youth from sexual and physical abuse. When sex is demanded in exchange for the "right to stay" put in the area it is inevitable that some (and at times, all) Tamil families would prefer to leave rather than have their youth utilized as sexual slaves. At other times when sex is demanded in exchange for food or water the situation is created where Tamil families face illegal actions to obtain such necessities or submit their wives, daughters, or even sons to dehumanizing acts of violence. 

In the end the goal of survival sex is not the obtaining of sexual pleasure but the dehumanizing of the targeted community. It is utilized so as to force the community to pull up its root, no matter how temporary they might be, and move out of a desired location. By attacking the family unit itself instead of the communal bond between families the aggressor aims to destroy the foundation of the targeted society. For this reason violent application of sex in conflict can be seen as objectively aiming for the destruction of a community's unity long term rather than the immediate annihilation of the community itself. It rips away at the fabric of both the community and the structure of the family unit within it. 

No Sex In Violence

Sex in violent conflict has nearly always been a checkpoint on the path to victory for waring states and tribes. From the time of the initial founding of nation states to our modern day the act of rape by soldiers and warriors has far often been overlooked. In the West the act of raping another man or boy has been the line in the sand. It is a point we don't readily accept. Yet we far too often look the other way as our boys in arms still commit violent sexual acts against our enemies. 

This cultural acceptance of sex in war has eroded in recent generations. But for all our moral outrage against the acts we have yet to bring the full weight of justice against those who commit these war crimes. We have in recent years established laws for both ourselves and the international community at large that prohibit the use of sex as a weapon of war. But for all our efforts the act itself has not yet had the full weight of the international community applied to it. 

If we; as a people who value liberty, honor, dignity, and the sanctity of human life, are to end the use of sex as a weapon in both war and peace we must first realize the vigilance it requires. Sri Lanka has unfortunately provided such an opportunity to exercise the vigilance. In cases such as this the world community must be seen as tenacious in our efforts to both end the use of sex as a weapon and ruthless in our efforts to punish those responsible. We must be tireless in our pursuit of justice for all victims of these barbaric acts. 

In the end we must make a break with our romanticized views of war. The aspects of it that our ancestors accepted as necessary evils can no longer be allowed to prevail in our time nor should they be permitted to enter our children's era. Unlike our parents' generation, we have the ability to unite through the technology they made possible. We have the ability to maintain solidarity with the victims through the connections we have forged. All we have to do now is breathe life into the idea that romanticized barbarism has no place in the modern world.

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Source Documents
(note not all sources are listed)

International Committee of The Red Cross

Human Rights Watch

Tamil News

Women Under Siege Project 

Christian Science Monitor 

1 comment:

  1. Sir, still now no countries are ready to accept this is a genocide. and i dont know wht UNO & US is doing??? may be after your blog it may create a worldwide awearness abt #slwarcrimes & #tamilgenocide


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