Nearly 200 men have come forward to accuse the government of Sri Lanka of torture and rape, the AP reports.
The victims, members of the Tamil ethnic minority, were suspected of being part of the Tamil Tigers, a revolutionary group caught in a bloody civil war with the government for nearly three decades.
Still bearing scars on their legs, backs and chests, they report being captured and blindfolded before being taken to a “torture room,” where were branded with tiger stripes to indicate their involvement with the Tigers.
One man recounted be held in a small room for three weeks, where he was burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and raped a dozen times. Others report being being forced to fondle their captors genitals or being sexually assaulted with sticks wrapped in barbed wire.
“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen,” says human rights investigator Piers Pigou.
A number of the victims are seeking asylum in Europe, but the atrocities they suffered have stayed with them. More than a dozen have tried to kill themselves. “From all of the beatings, especially on the soles of my feet, the pain had taken over,” said one man. “But what haunted me the most is all of the sexual torture that went on.”
Although the civil war ended in 2009, the abuse allegedly continued through this year: One victim is just 19, making his involvement in a conflict that ended eight years ago suspect.
Authorities in Sri Lanka, however, deny the allegations.
“The army was not involved,” says Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake. “I’m sure that police also were not involved. There’s no reason for us to do that now.”
Since the end of open hostilities, Sri Lanka has worked to polish its reputation on the international stage: In May, the European Union restored the country’s special trade status. Representatives from Sri Lanka have also sat in on a U.N. leadership committee combating sexual abuse.
In a visit last year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-mooon praised the country’s advances.
“I… commend Sri Lankans for examining the difficult period you have now begun to leave behind. I am sure those efforts will continue to generate important lessons for the international community that can save many lives in many places.”
In January, the Sri Lankan government outlawed anti-LGBT discrimination, and has announced plans to decriminalize homosexuality, as well.
“The government is committed to ensuring that no provision in the law would be applied to persons of the LGBTIQ community in a discriminatory manner,” said Deputy Solicitor General, Nerin Pulle. “Despite social, political and cultural challenges that remain… Sri Lanka remains committed to law reform and guaranteeing non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.”