Torture, the most dreaded word in Sri Lanka 35 years ago | Daily News

Torture, the most dreaded word in Sri Lanka 35 years ago

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Torture, the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering for a purpose, such as extracting information, coercing a confession, or inflicting punishment.

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. The reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, extortion, persuasion, political re-education, deterrence, coercion of the victim or a third party, interrogation to extract information or a confession irrespective of whether it is false, or simply the sadistic gratification of those carrying out or observing the torture.

Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. The torturer may or may not kill or injure the victim, but torture may result in a deliberate death and serves as a form of Capital Punishment. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible (such as half-hanging). In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim. Although torture is sanctioned by some states, it is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. Although widely illegal and reviled, there is an ongoing debate as to what exactly is and is not legally defined as torture. It is a serious violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable (but not illegal) by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols I and II of 8 June 1977 officially agree not to torture captured persons in armed conflicts, whether international or internal. Torture is also prohibited for the signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has 163 state parties.

Human Rights abuses

National and international legal prohibitions on torture derive from a consensus that torture and similar ill-treatment are immoral, as well as impractical, and information obtained by torture is far less reliable than that obtained by other techniques. Despite these findings and international conventions, organisations that monitor abuses of human rights (e.g., Amnesty International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Freedom from Torture, etc.) report widespread use condoned by states in many regions of the world. Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some of them openly.

In Sri Lanka, the murders of over 60,000 innocent poor youths including school children, undergraduates, lawyers, journalists were carried out by the regime that was in power during 1987/1988.

The Fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa travelled to Geneva in Switzerland to lobby country representatives at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the international body that preceded the current UN Human Rights Council. He carried a total of 533 documents with him to Geneva which contained information about missing persons and a total of 19 pages of photographs of them to make his case to delegations at the UN. “We have a right to tell this to the world. Tears of innocent grieving mothers compel us to tell their story of pain and sorrow to the world. We will do it today, tomorrow and always,” he stated in Parliament.

He took the lead to form the ‘Mothers’ Front’ with over 25,000 Sri Lankan mothers, wives, sisters etc who lost their loved ones due to the state sponsored killing field that existed in Sri Lanka in 1987 and 1988. Over 60,000 young men and women were killed after being tortured at selected locations such as Batalanda and then murdered during this period. Among them there were prominent professionals such as Richard De Zoysa and Wijedasa Liyanarachchi. Wijedasa Liyanarachchi was killed on September 2nd in 1989. He died with multiple injuries resulting from torture while in police custody.

Richard De Zoysa was murdered in the same way on February 18 in 1990. Richard Manik de Zoysa was a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, author, human rights activist and actor, who was abducted and murdered on 18 February 1990.

His murder caused widespread outrage inside the country, and is widely believed to have been carried out by a death squad linked to elements within the then

Government. At the time of his abduction and murder, de Zoysa was the head of the Colombo office of the Inter Press Service. He lived in the Welikadawatte housing estate with his mother, Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu and associate A. V. Karunaratne. In the early morning of February 18, 1990, an armed group broke into their home, forcibly removed de Zoysa and drove off without explanation. The following day, de Zoysa’s lifeless body was dumped on the beach at Moratuwa, some 12 miles south of Colombo. He had been shot in the head and the throat, and his jaw had been broken.

Padmasiri Thrimavitharana was murdered in the same manner in November in 1988. Medical student Padmasiri Trimavitharana. He was abducted on October 22, 1988 in Ratnapura, tortured, killed and his body dumped on the Wellawaya-Koslanda Road. It was revealed that long nails were inserted into his scalp while torturing him. More than 300,000 people attended Trimavitharana’s funeral at the Borella Cemetery. Several other medical students too, were abducted and murdered similarly.

Anti-ragging campaigner

Samantha Vithanage murder on 7th November in 2002 marked another well known incident of torture in Sri Lanka. Ovitigala Vithanage Samantha aka Samantha Vithanage was a third year Management student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, who pioneered an anti-ragging campaign killed during a discussion to stop the brutal practice of ragging in the faculty. His death was a landmark incident in the anti-ragging movement of Sri Lankan state universities.

On November 7, 2002, the anti-ragging campaigners sat down for a discussion with the pro-rag student council General Students Union attached to the Inter University Students’ Federation (Mahaa Shishya Sangamaya attached to Anthar Vishvavidyala Shishya Balamandalaya) of University of Sri Jayawardanepura, who defended the practice.

The meeting took place at the premises of the Department of Marketing Management. Midway through the discussion, a mob of around 200 Mahaa Shishya Sangamaya supporters armed with clubs and stones stormed into the room and viciously attacked Vithanage and others in the anti-ragging camp.

The attackers stabbed their victims with shards of glass, pens, pencils etc. and Vithanage, who was struck, fell to the floor. President of the Mahaa Shishya Sangamaya at that time (November 2002) crushed a heavy computer monitor on his head. Vithanage was seriously injured. Pro-ragging students also blocked the vehicle carrying the injured to the hospital, delaying proper medical treatment. Two days later Samantha Vithanage died.


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