SRI LANKA: A report on marginalization and sexual violence against women in the north and east 

The Minority Rights Group International has published a report entitled, ‘Living with insecurity: Marginalization and sexual violence against women in north and east Sri Lanka’.

The executive summary of the report is as follows:

Four years since the end of the armed conflict, the situation of minority women in the north and east of Sri Lanka has changed dramatically — and for many it is getting worse. In the latter stages of the conflict and its aftermath, military forces were responsible for a variety of human rights abuses against the civilian population, including extrajudicial killings, disappearance, rape, sexual harassment and other violations. In the current climate of impunity, sustained by insecurity and the lack of military accountability, these abuses continue.

Thousands have lost their husbands and other family members during the armed conflict. Others, such as those whose husbands and relatives surrendered to the army after the government’s announcement of an amnesty for former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) personnel, still do not know their whereabouts and face an ongoing struggle for truth, justice and accountability. For many women, this has brought new responsibilities: 40,000 households in the north and east are now female headed.

Yet Sri Lanka’s social and political environment remains heavily patriarchal, exposing women to multiple levels of discrimination. Many now have added responsibilities as primary earners for their families: they face limited livelihood opportunities in the post-armed conflict context, and are typically excluded from official development programmes. Furthermore, against a backdrop of competing claims and mass resettlement, they are especially vulnerable to land grabs and other rights violations.

The militarization of the north and east from 2009 has contributed to continued insecurity for minority women. Many, especially widows and the wives of disappeared or ‘surrenderees’, are vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation or assault by army personnel or other militias. The military presence in the area, together with the increasing chauvinism of Sri Lanka’s political and religious hierarchy, has also reduced their cultural and religious freedoms — including their right to mourn their dead.

Resettlement in the north and east, not only by those displaced during the armed conflict but also through government-sponsored relocation of Sinhalese workers and households, has raised tensions between communities in the current divisive environment. This is the result not only of disputes over land and resources but also differing social and cultural norms. ‘The increasing prevalence of sexual exploitation and relationships, coerced or otherwise, has put women on the frontline of these conflicts.

So far the government’s response to these ongoing rights violations has been inadequate. In fact, state and military policies are actively contributing to insecurity and the marginalization of women in the north and east. By contrast, women activists continue to advocate, often at great personal risk, for truth, justice and accountability for themselves and other survivors of the armed conflict. However, until a clear framework of protection is created for minority women and other marginalized groups, including physical security, freedom of expression and land rights, the possibility of lasting peace and reconciliation in the north and east remains elusive.

For the full report kindly see here.

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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-188-2013
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Child rights, Extrajudicial killings, Impunity, Minorities, Torture,