SRI LANKA: WOMEN’S DAY — Failure of state protection for women from rape, sexual harassment, murder and other harmful acts 

At Kahawatte, representatives from several religions met and addressed a press conference on the issue of insecurity relating to the women living in this area. Ten women have been raped and killed in this area within a short period of time; the most recent incident occurred one month ago. For further information please see the article published by the AHRC. The police have failed to identify and arrest the persons responsible for this heinous crime.

The women representatives from the different religions stated in very clear terms that now women are afraid to stay alone in their houses in the Kahawatte area. Amongst those who expressed their concerns were nuns from the Buddhist and Catholic faiths. They all stated that the night has become a terrifying time for them and that if there were no men in the house they would rather leave home and stay elsewhere. The fear of rape and murder has gripped the locality.

All the speakers attributed this deep sense of insecurity to the failure of the police and went on to say that this is not something new to the Kahawatte area. Indeed, all over the country people identify the failure of the police as the main reason for the increase in crime and the spread of insecurity in their respective localities.

The women who held the press conference stated that the police are no longer interested in their law enforcement functions but, are rather being used to hunt political opponents of the ruling regime. The concerns of the police are directed at those who hold demonstrations relating to the high increases in the cost of living or other forms of repression which are prevalent in the country. Hunting down dissenters is now the task for which the police are used and their function as the protectors of the people has taken a back seat.

The fear of rape and the very real possibility of being murdered are wide spread throughout the country. In 2011 alone 1,350 cases of rape were reported. It is well known that anywhere in the world that the numbers of persons who dare to report a rape are very few. Thus, the figure of 1,350 is just a fraction of the women who have been subjected to this abuse. How many of these cases have been investigated and how many of the perpetrators have been brought to book? If, indeed, there are any at all it would only be a handful. The sense of futility of making complaints to the police is such that from among 30 women that were interviewed on the question as to whether they would go to a police station if they had a problem almost every one of them answered categorically that they would not dare.

A variety of reasons were given. The foremost being that they are afraid that they would be subjected to an even worse form of treatment than the one about which they were making a complaint. The fear of rape or sexual harassment at police stations is quite common among women.

When the lack of trust in the police has fallen to these depths with regard to protection and when the lack of confidence is so well known to the government and the authorities and still no action is taken what expectation can there be of protection for women. at the moment there is nothing to attach one’s hope to and there is no real demand that could be made of the government with any real expectation that action will be taken.

Thus the core of the problem of the rape and murder of women and other insecurities that they face relates to a deeper problem of the failure of the government to take up the task of law enforcement with any kind of seriousness or any sense of obligation. One of the primary tasks of any government is to ensure the enforcement of the law through its agencies such as the police and thereby create the assurance to everyone, particularly the vulnerable groups such as the women, children and the elderly that their protection is a matter for which the government places the most serious attention. This consideration no longer exists in the Sri Lankan context.

Therefore what anyone is seriously concerned about in the protection of women as the representatives of the religious groups who gathered at Kahawatte should do is to seriously ponder the failure of the government in this regard and to address the root causes of the failure of the government to take its primary obligations seriously. In any inquiry into such root causes it will become extremely clear that the structure of the government that is being imposed through the 1978 Constitution has failed completely. The executive presidential system has proved itself to be a complete failure in every aspect including that of the basic protection of citizens.

Press conferences or protests against rape and the absence of protection for women will be of little use as long as the ineffective system of governance, created and imposed on the people by the 1978 Constitution would be enforced. The only kind of protection that the people would have under these circumstances is whatever they can do for themselves and not what they should expect from the government.

The executive presidential system is a threat to the protection of women and even a basic problem like rape cannot be prevented as long this form of governance will be the one that people of Sri Lanka have to live under.

Therefore, the women who make up half of the population, together with others should combine their efforts to address the root causes of the problems of insecurity and direct their attention to the removal of the system of governance that exists in Sri Lankan under the 1978 Constitution.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-043-2012
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Violence against women, Women's rights,