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SRI LANKA: Rape of a female passenger by the airport officers inside of the Bandaranayake International Airport

October 21, 2005

URGENT ACTIION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Urgent Appeal

21 October 2005
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UA-183-2005: SRI LANKA: Rape of a female passenger by the airport officers inside of the Bandaranayake International Airport

SRI LANKA: Rape; Women’s rights; Rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is shocked by the incident of a Sri Lankan female passenger being raped by airport officers inside of the Bandarnayake International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on 10 October 2005. The victim was reportedly threatened at knife-point and forcibly drugged before being raped. She was then put onto a flight to another country immediately after the incident.

This incident is a gross violation of human rights, which is only possible in a country where there has been a complete collapse in the rule of law.

The AHRC strongly urges the Sri Lankan government to conduct a thorough investigation into this incident immediately. We particularly urge the Sri Lankan government to take action against the Airport authority who failed to prevent such incident as a supervision responsibility.
 
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Name of the victim: Ms. X (Name withheld), aged 23, mother of a one-year-old boy
Alleged perpetrators: Four airport officers, including two security personnel and two casual workers from the Janitorial Services Company
Date of incident:  10 October 2005
Place of incident: Inside of the Bandarnayake International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka

Case details:

On 10 October 2005, a 23-year-old female Sri Lankan passenger was on her way to Kuwait to work as a domestic helper. Her flight was scheduled for 7:30am and she arrived at the Bandarnayake International Airport in Katunayake at 4:30am where she went through the check-in procedure. After that, an airport security personnel approached her and questioned her whether she was going to Kuwait and asked her what was the name of her employment agency. Despite answering his questions, she was told that she needed to be searched again.

She was forced into a room on the 1st floor of the airport where civilians are not allowed to enter. There she was confronted by the other three airport officers; one security personnel and two casual workers from the Janitorial Services Company.  They then threatened her by revealing a knife before taking her to the cleaners' quarters where they drugged her. She reported that the perpetrators forced her to drink a powdery substance and soon after she became unconscious. The four alleged perpetrators then raped her. As the victim’s flight time approached, one of the perpetrators accompanied her to the awaiting aircraft. The victim was placed on the aircraft and flew out of the country. As a result, the victim was deprived of her right to make an immediate complaint regarding the incident.

The victim reached her destination but was feeling unwell. As she reached her workplace, she began to vomit because of the drugs that had been given to her. Her employers then lodged an entry at the Kuwaiti police before returning her on a flight to Sri Lanka. The Kuwaiti police informed their counterparts in Sri Lanka. When she arrived back into Sri Lanka, she made an entry at the airport police station and also with the Foreign Employment Bureau. The Officer in Charge (OIC) of the airport police warded her at the Negombo Hospital for further medical treatment. She later also complained to the Wellawa police regarding the incident. Superintendent of Police (SP), Negombo, Premasiri Vithanage initiated inquiries into the victim's complaint. Five persons were interrogated by the police and four persons were ordered to be remanded on October 20 by the Kanuwna Circuit Magistrate Court until October 26. However, so far there has been no information forthcoming as to whether the police have taken any concrete action against the alleged perpetrators or the airport authority regarding their supervision failure.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please send an appeal letter to the persons below and express your deep concern about this serious case.

Sample letter:

Dear ___________,

SRI LANKA: Rape of a female passenger by the airport officers inside of the Bandaranayake International Airport

Name of the victim: Ms. X (Name withheld), aged 23, mother of a one-year-old boy
Alleged perpetrators: Four airport officers, including two security personnel and two casual workers from the Janitorial Services Company
Date of incident:  10 October 2005
Place of incident: Inside of the Bandarnayake International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka

I am appalled to learn that a Sri Lankan female passenger was raped by four airport officers inside of the Bandarnayake International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on 10 October 2005. Such an incident is a gross violation of human rights, which is only possible in a country where there has been a complete collapse in the rule of law.

After checking in to catch her flight to Kuwait, the victim was asked to accompany an airport officer to a room for further inspection. Once in the room, the victim was confronted by the other three airport officers; one security personnel and the two casual workers from the Janitorial Services Company.  They then threatened her by revealing a knife before taking her to the cleaners' quarters where they drugged her. The four alleged perpetrators then raped her. As the victim’s flight time approached, one of the perpetrators accompanied her to the awaiting aircraft. The victim was placed on the aircraft and flew out of the country. As a result, the victim was deprived her right to make an immediate complaint regarding the incident.

The victim reached her destination where her new employers lodged an entry at the Kuwaiti police before returning her on a flight to Sri Lanka. The Kuwaiti police informed their counterparts in Sri Lanka. When she arrived back into Sri Lanka, she made an entry at the airport police station and also with the Foreign Employment Bureau. The Officer in Charge (OIC) of the airport police warded her at the Negombo Hospital for further medical treatment. She later also complained to the Wellawa police regarding the incident. Superintendent of Police (SP), Negombo, Premasiri Vithanage initiated inquiries into the victim's complaint. Five persons were interrogated by the police and four persons were ordered to be remanded on October 20 by the Kanuwna Circuit Magistrate Court until October 26. However, so far there has been no information forthcoming as to whether the police have taken any concrete action against the alleged perpetrators or the airport authority regarding their supervision failure.
 
I therefore strongly urge you to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and take action against the airport authority. I also urge you to ensure that the victim receives appropriate medical treatment and adequate compensation for the trauma she has endured.

Yours sincerely,
 

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PLEASE SEND A LETTER TO:

Mr. Chandra Fernando
Inspector General of Police (IGP)
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440/327877

PLEASE SEND A COPY TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
Prime Minister
Cambridge Place
Colombo 7
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 682905 / 575454
E-mail: secpm@sltnet.lk or bradmanw@slt.lk

2. Mr. K. C. Kamalasabesan
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436 421

3. Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Chairperson
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk 

4. Ms. Yakin Erturk
Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
c/o Ms Lucinda Ohanlon
Room 3-042
OHCHR-UNOG, Palais Wilson,
8-14 Avenue de la Paix,
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9615
Fax: +41 22 917 9006
Email: lohanlon@ohchr.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-183-2005
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.