"What right do they have to cause this
loss to us and to the country ?"
This chapter deals with several aspects in
which women were affected during the period under scrutiny by
this Commission, the continued effect on women of the excesses
committed during that period and the reaction of women to the
situation including the activities of women both at a
socio/religious level and at a political/legal level as
recognition of resistance to the existing dominant political
The Commission makes specific recommendations
in respect of some of the issues arising from the experience of
Women as Victims
The Commission found that women were victimised
in two ways: as abductees or detainees and as persons left
201 disappearances of females were reported to
the Commission of which 177 were inquired into. The disappearance
of 148 of them was established. Approximately 50% of the cases
were from the Southern Province; over 25% were from the Matara
Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. Special Rapporteur
on "Violence against Woman including its Causes and
Consequences", in her evidence before the Commission drew
attention to the fact that the practice of sexual or other
violence against women is an international trend of war in recent
times, and made a specific appeal that a consideration of this
aspect should form part of our Report.
The removal or killing of a person has at times
been sought to be justified as an extension of the working of the
criminal justice system (arrest, detention,
sentencing-imprisonment and death). i.e. that this act was
occasioned by a break down in the state's or anti-state group's
concept of law and order.2
The sexual violence practiced on woman however can not
be sought to be justified in the same manner.
1. Apparent Motives Attached to the
(i) Personal involvement in political type
activity - 15% Most of these omen were directly
involved with political activity,
3 but three were
killed due to the nature of their employment.4
(ii) Family involvement in politics - 33%
These include women who were abducted as hostages instead of the
actual target. Of the members of the families involved, there
were only 2 incidents of disappearance of woman due to political
activity of a female relative.
In one case, a woman was killed by soldiers who
were looking for her two sons on the basis that she was
In one of the most devastating examples before
the Commission of women victimised in this manner the security
forces killed seven members of one family including six females
(one six years old) on the basis of one male's alleged
involvement with the JVP.
(iii)Personal motives - 13%. - The
personal motives involved incidents when persons disappeared or
were killed due to disputes within the community. However,
several cases also point to a personal motive against the
individual woman who had disappeared. In one case the mother of a
young woman who had disappeared stated to the Commission that
"my daughter was very beautiful. She refused a proposal of
marriage from a police constable and disappeared a few days
later". In another case, a mother of a girl who had been
raped and killed and the body recovered stated to the Commission
that she was killed "simply because of her womanhood".
(iv)Other political motives - 9%.-
This included ideological position of various political groups
such as non-cooperation with the State, not working on certain
days and not assisting the "other side". As far as the
state forces were concerned, a further motive of the need to
cover up irregular/illegal acts was also established.
* A woman and her daughter were abducted
and the woman killed by the JVP for refusing to cook/provide
food for its cadres.
* A woman who provided meals for a relative
who was a member of the JVP was killed by the security
forces, most probably as a warning to others who assisted the
JVP in some way or the other.
In a striking mixture of personal motive
against the disappeared women as well as evidence of a dispute
within the community was a case of a disappearance of two women
following a complaint made by them to the office of the Deputy
Inspector General of Police regarding the disappearance of some
of their male relatives from the custody of the local police.
Despite overwhelming evidence the local police denied arresting
the four males, and then attempted to justify the arrest and
provided further information. Although the men are now,
supposedly arrested in connection with some crimes, no record of
these crimes exists. Inquiries revealed that some of the men had
a reputation of committing petty crimes and their activities were
monitored by the JVP. One of the women was a keen social worker
and was involved in most village activities including supplying
food to persons in hiding from the police (suspected of JVP
activities). Although several members of families had visited the
men in the police station, it was only the two women who
disappeared. The only conclusion that the Commission is able to
come to is that the women most probably disappeared due to their
complaints to the D.I.G.
The dilemma of most ordinary people is
highlighted by this case. One's activities were being monitored
by every one. One's friends and relations needed one's assistance
due to being under suspicion and not/providing assistance could
in itself be dangerous. While the whole community is able to give
evidence of the arrest and subsequent detention of these men for
over two weeks, the police could keep denying the arrest even up
to date. Requesting further investigations during that period was
not only fruitless but else proved dangerous.
(v). Motive Unknown - 28%-.
* A 46 year old mother of two was killed by
unknown persons who came to her house.
* One woman and another villager were
killed when a soldier went on a drunken spree in the village
(vi) Outside Mandate - 2%.-
Disappearances that occurred before the date of inception of the
2. Ages of the Disappeared
The biggest single category age-wise were
within the age 20-30 years (approximately 35%). A relatively high
number of women of between the age of 40-50 years
(approximately30%) also disappeared. Almost 10% of the incidents
reported to the Commission involved disappearance/killings of
girls under 18 years. Another 10% of the incidents reported were
of women over 50 years of age. It is the opinion of the
Commission that these statistics are an indication of the
arbitrary nature of the disappearances and/or killing of women.
3. Experience of Woman detainees and
Whilst this Commission is unable to come to
definite conclusions regarding the range of experience of women
who disappeared due to inadequate evidence, the following cases
are an indication of the sexual harassment faced by these women.
In some cases where the bodies of the women were recovered, the
bodies bore evidence of sexual abuse including rape. In many
cases women were abducted or harassed in place of their male
* A 17 year old girl was blindfolded, stripped,
subjected to various comments from the abductors and forced to
participate in sexual acts with her fellow detainees. This girl
together with all but one (the witness before the Commission)
were killed the next day and their bodies set on fire.
* In a case presently before the Magistrate's
Court of Colombo, a woman was abducted in 1990 by a group of
police men and allegedly subjected to gang rape. She was returned
to her home within 24 hours of her abduction by the same men. The
non summary inquiry into the incident is still continuing.
* In a case presently before the Magistrate's
Court of Matara, a woman was allegedly raped by a group of
soldiers and her uncle, who reported the incident to the police,
disappeared a week later. This inquiry is being conducted over
seven years and is yet to be concluded.
* Army personnel in search of a youth who was
away from home, wanted a member of the family as hostage. They
rejected the father on the basis that "no use of old
codgers, we'll take that girl" and did so. This girl and
another girl were abducted from the same area. It has been
established since then that both girls had been raped and killed
and their bodies had been burnt. The mother of the first girl
told the Commission "people know about this (the rape) so I
have nothing to hide. She was so small and fragile. I don't know
why they did this to my little girl".
* Army personnel who abducted from his home a
JVP Trade Unionist, deposited him in their vehicle, and returned
to abduct his 16 year old daughter too, before their departure.
Both father and daughter have disappeared.
* A women was assaulted and her ten month old
daughter was buried up to her neck in the garden by Army
personnel in search of her husband. Her ten year old son was
abducted at the same time. Reports indicate that the husband was
later killed but there is no news of her son to date.
* A man was killed by persons who were
allegedly attached to the neighbourhood Navy camp. His wife told
the Commission that "my husband was shattered into pieces by
the gun fire. Then, they took away my only two daughters".
The two girls remain missing to date. The mother continues to
list them as part of her family, even up to the date of giving
evidence before the Commission.
These are some examples.
4. The Climate of Impunity
"Any one could behave in this manner
during this period"
The Commission is of the opinion that the
climate of impunity existing during the major part of the period
under scrutiny lead to the victimisation of women as much as men.
Not only were personal scores settled but some of the personal
scores seem to be linked directly with the femaleness of the
victim. Further, all parties to the civil conflict had an
established pattern of warning off potential members of the other
side by killing or harassing relatives of known members of the
opposite camp. This practice obviously affected the persons who
were most at home - women and children. "Rape is never in
The Commission has recommended that the
contents of and the need for the Indemnity Act requires serious
6 The Commission is
particularly concerned with the fact that the present Act
indemnifies acts which are done in "good faith". As far
as women are concerned, much of their experience does not tally
with any possible involvement of the concept of "good
Shooting while you are being shot at could be
an act done in good faith even if it results in death. Rape can
never be in "good faith" - killing and burning one and
a half year olds is not in "good faith".
Many violations of the rights of women and many
acts of violence against women which cannot be considered
necessary in the ordinary course of law enforcement were
committed upon persons who gave evidence before us and may have
been committed on many more. Presently, there are several cases
pending in courts of charges of rape and sexual abuse against
members of the armed forces and the police. In this context, we
urge that urgent action be taken with regard to the Indemnity Act
of 1982 as amended in 1988.
People left Behind
1. Effects of Disappearance of Women on
It is the children of the mothers who
disappear who suffer the most the disgusting activities of
both the governmental and anti-state forces during that
period has lead to the deprivation of many mothers of many
Over 50% of the incidents analysed by the
Commission were of women who had children. over 30% of the
incidents analysed by the Commission were of several members of
the family being killed or disappearing.
* In a case where a women was taken hostage
instead of her husband, her neighbours refused to open their
doors to her twelve year old son.
2. Effect of Disappearances of Family
Members on Women
I am like Patachara - driven from police
station to police station looking for first my husband and
then my two sons.
(i) Breadwinner of the Family
Someone has to find the money to feed the
My mother is in the Middle East
My husband/children do not want to/can not work so I work as
I take care of my mother-on-law as well.
There was overwhelming evidence of women being
thrust into, the role of primary breadwinner of a family due to
the disappearance. In some incidents, the sole or primary
breadwinner had disappeared. In some, the primary breadwinner had
been rendered incapable by the fact of the disappearance of
another (illness, depression).
Many women, although initially uncomfortable
with the role seen to have responded positively to this further
challenge to their survival. The fact of disappearance thus
effected a further transformation of the role of women into an
economic force at local level.
(ii) Loss of financial support
Help me by helping to educate my twins.
The social fabric within which the
disappearances recorded by this Commission occurred included very
few employment opportunities for women. Thus, they had no
alternative but low-paid or non employment. The family under
these circumstances as a whole suffer.
(iii) Deprivation of Inheritance
They told me that it does not belong to me or
The Commission recorded several instances where
women have been deprived of their lawful inheritance by their
in-laws on the pretext that the husband is not necessarily dead.
Many of the women also complain of being edged out of their
husband's property, highlighting their vulnerability.
They want me to get married again but he
might still be alive
Tell me whether to celebrate his birthday
or commemorate his death
If he died of a fever, a bus accident, I
would have been informed
It is very difficult to explain to a child
the absence of a father
Countless women bore witness to the fact that
the most devastating aspect of disappearances as opposed to a
killing and recovery of a body lay in the inability to cope with
the loss due to uncertainty. Many believe that their loved ones
are being held in secret detention camps. The need to know the
"truth" was clearly witnessed at the exhumation of the
mass grave at Sooriyakanda in 1983. Several persons kept vigil
desperately attempting to identify the exhumed remains as that of
their disappeared loved one.
My heart wished to bring him (corpse) home
but no one would help me
Now I am not in my right senses
I am consumed by flames each and every
Returned destitute from Lebanon due to the
war to find sons missing
(vi) Precious resources used up in looking
for the disappeared
I mortgaged my dowry look for my son - please
I looked everywhere for my daughter but it
was of no avail. Now I have given up, partly because I can no
longer continue on the same basis and partly because I am
Many Women feel that they were responsible for
* A woman who visited her parent's home had
her husband abducted by police offices who were searching for
her brothers. The husband remains missing to date. This woman
still deals with the double trauma of the disappearance of
her husband and the sense that she is in some way or the
other responsible for his disappearance.
I went to the police station and they
chased me away like a dog
I filed a Habeas Corpus Case but it is in
Colombo and that's very far.
I did not know of Habeas Corpus but I
complained to the Presidential Commission but was told I was
out of time.
I wrote about 100 letters but got replies
only from the ICRC
The police station did not record the
statement so I went to the Army camp and they did.
I signed a petition.
I went to the JOC - never heard of it
until then - I am illiterate - others told me.
This Commission wishes to record the fact that
many of the women who gave evidence before it did not have a
functional level of literacy but had taken at least some of the
basic steps towards an inquiry into the disappearance/killing of
their loved ones. However, the responses to these attempts were,
at best, lukewarm and in some instances actively hostile. the
attempts of the ICRC to trace the whereabouts of persons and the
sensitivity with which they responded was borne out by the
numerous letters produced before the Commission which were prompt
replies in Sinhala and follow-up letters where relevant from the
ICRC to families. While several non governmental organisations
provided free legal assistance for persons wishing to access the
legal system, and actively encouraged persons to resort to legal
action, the lengthy delays and the distances to be covered
discouraged many women from pursuing these cases to their end.
I went to the police station and they
chased me away like a dog.
(b) Women's Organisations
I am the branch President of the Mother's
I went for many Meetings/Marches
The political response to disappearances and
removal of persons by women had the capacity of shaking the
system to a fair extent. Many women who had rarely left their
home areas went in search of politicians with a reputation for
or, in their perception, a duty to help trace the disappeared.
The formation of groups of women into organisations, such as the
Mother's Front and the Mothers and Daughters of Lanka as well as
the Organisation of Parents of Families of disappeared in 1989
and 1990 also signaled a change in the activities of the patterns
of disappearances. These organisations not only proved to the
woman their own strength and political power but also provided
for the first time a platform for shared grief.
(c) Last Resort
I consulted 72 soothsayers.
I am still doing Bodhi Poojas.
As many as 50 mothers stay near the camp at a time to catch a
glimpse of their child.
This Commission notes that in addition to
attempting to have their complaints/statements recorded and going
around looking for the disappeared, many women consulted
astrologers and soothsayers to verify whether their loved ones
were still alive and if so their places of detention. They
conducted religious ceremonies to protect the disappeared from
any harm. An informal network of information regarding possible
places of detention and places to complain to existed and also,
in some situations, support from others congregated at the same
place on the same quest.
The Commission was struck by the fact that
whilst different women had been involved in a variety of activity
and many had taken some steps to locate their loved one, an
overwhelming number of women consistently consulted astrologers
and soothsayers and conducted religious ceremonies. This leads to
the conclusion that these were people losing faith in the legal
and political system in place and preferring to rely on the least
threatening and, in many ways, the most reliable source of
comfort, for information. This may seem the response of
illiterate, uneducated peasants, However, the Commission notes
that persons of all educational and social backgrounds had relied
on this last-resort remedy available.
(a) Erasure of Abductees' experience.-
Much of the evidence of the experience of abductees has been
gathered by this Commission on the basis of post-mortem reports
or other evidence in cases where a corpse had been found.
Although this is sufficient to assess the physical impact of the
abduction, it is no guide to the emotional experiences of
abductees. Only a few returned detainees were available to give
evidence before the Commission of their experience and of the
experience of others.
* It is recommended that steps be taken to
ensure the investigation of the arbitrary removal and experiences
in detention of returned detainees.
The other source of information regarding the
abductees' experience is the abductor or persons assisting the
abductor and the Commission identifies the importance of
encouraging persons who may have been involved with the
abductors, especially those who were only peripherally involved
to give evidence of scenes witnessed by them.
* It is recommended that the possibility of
awarding indemnities based on the extent of these people's
involvement or their ability to make reparation by explored.
(b) Sexual Abuse.- The issue of sexual
abuse of detainees including of men has been brought to the
attention of the Commission on many occasions. It is apparent
that sexual abuse is being used as a further form of punishment
and control. The Commission recommends that:
(a) Rape/sexual assault in custody to be
recognised as torture;
(b) The reversal of the burden of proof in cases of custodial
sexual abuse and also the award of punitive damages following
In many cases, the first medical officer a
detainee comes into contact with is the Judicial Medical officer
(JMO). It is recommended that"
(a) The JMOs are provided with training on
detecting cases of sexual abuse; and
(b) Effective counselling services are made available to the
victims, both while they are in custody and after they are
(c) Continuing Victimisation.-
"Quite spontaneously swamped by grief which seemed to come
from the bottom of their hearts, they began to beat their hands
on their chests and will"
I spent the compensation on an alms giving.
I don't want to gain money for my husband's loss.
* It is recommended that compensation to
families of the disappeared or killed during this period goes
beyond mere "cash" to the provision of scholarships
* Further, when financial assistance is
provided, that effective training/counselling is provided on
savings including encouraging group activities.
* Assistance for/training on home based
self-employment for women is another alternative that needs
(ii) INABILITY TO COPE
I am out of my senses since I saw my son's
headless corpse in the river.
I beg in order to eke out a living for my children
I can not bear the uncertainty for much longer
One of the most obvious effects of this period
has been the devastation of people's emotional ability to cope.
Many witnesses before the Commission seem at the end of their
tether. It is recommended that:
* Speedy action is taken to establish
counselling services all over the country. Assistance can be
sought from non governmental organisations which are already
involved in providing these services to a certain extent.
* It is further recommended that as far as
the exhumation of mass grave in concerned, the exhumation is
conducted in a scientific manner by qualified investigators
(iii) STIGMA/COMMUNITY HOSTILITY
The Commission noted that many families of the
disappeared or killed suffer from being stigmatised on the basis
of the disappeared person's political activity. Considerable
tension exists between members of families of persons who
belonged to rival camps. The community hostility towards families
affected by the removal of persons was heightened by the former
system of the distribution of compensation only to families
affected by subversive act.
It is recommended that:
* Both the counselling and the compensation be
based on the need for rehabilitation of the whole community and
reparation to the community. The counselling should include
attempts at reconciling families of members of different parties
to each other on the basis of shared loss, and to reconciling the
community to the fact that families can not be held responsible
for the acts of individuals, and to the reality of the additional
sense of loss suffered by the families concerned. It is also
recommended that as part of the process of reparation activities
which are of common benefit like the repair of public amenities
or the provision of public services be undertaken.
Women are always victims - The future of
this country hangs on these women's ideas and ideologies9
Disappearances started before 1989...did
not stop after 1989...even if one disappearance occurs now
it is evident that the system is still in place. If there is
no investigation - discovering the truth and
acknowledgement - it can continue to happen.10
This Commission notes that violence against
women was used as a tool of control of a community (family,
village, peers). The Commission also notes that much of the pain
of the violence against the men is borne by women and families.
In this event, the Commission also recognises that it is the
women who will play a major role in the possible prevention of
events of this nature from occurring again.
The conflict which lead to the establishment of
this Commission, on the other hand, has had very little input
from women at a decision making level. During much of the period
under scrutiny by the Commission there were no women in the
Politbureau of the JVP and the Commanders of the armed forces,
Inspectors General of Police and the Ministers in charge of
Defence were all men.
Under these circumstances, the socio/political
impact of the establishment of the political groups by the women
and their religious activities can not be underestimated. An
unprecedented merger between the political and cultural forces
was witnessed in 1993 when the political forces appropriated the
religious rituals at the Kali Kovil in Colombo and the Devale at
Kataragama in "appeals to the Gods" for justice.
This Commission concludes that the
encouragement of active political participation of women at all
levels including at decision making levels could minimise the
possibility of the eruption of similar violence in the future.
In this section, the term "victim" is used as in the
case of a victim of an offense or as situation beyond the control
of the immediate person.
Party membership/activism, Union membership.
4. Employment in
the State sector.
5. Rabhika Commeraswamy.
6. See Chapter Seven.
Mathulatha, District Secretary of the Mother's Front, Matara,
describing the first meeting of the Mother's Front in 1990.
Suriya Wickremesinghe, Secretary, Civil Rights Movement, also
recommended the same.
9. Dr. Manorani
Posted on 1999-01-01