Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – Armed conflict – Sexual and gender-based violence

At the 48th session of UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), ECCHR presented a report on the foreseeability of sexual violence in conflict in the context of Sri Lanka.

The report calls for new legal means to hold perpetrators accountable and calls on the UN, as it works to uphold human and women’s rights, to take into account the frequent occurrence of sexual violence during conflict situations. In June 2012, ECCHR called on three UN Special Rapporteurs and a UN Working Group to carry out further investigations into the situation of women and girls in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.


Since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in mid-May 2009, there has been an increased military presence in northern and eastern regions of the country. The number of assaults in women and girls in these regions has simultaneously risen with and is attributable to the increased number of military and police members.

In its complaint, ECCHR points out the extent to which these violent acts and ongoing impunity are closely linked to the antiterrorism law called the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This law from the 1970s, modified in 2011, makes it easier for police and military members to carry out body inspections and “searches” without having to justify doing so. These searches are often carried out alongside sexual harassment and violence that is specifically of a sexual nature.


Pressure must be exerted on Sri Lanka to comply with its international obligations and in particular to bring its Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with the UN CEDAW Convention. ECCHR reported on the situation of women in northern Sri Lanka at an event parallel to the 19th and 22nd sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council as well as to the CEDAW Committee in Geneva and the European Parliament in Brussels.

In addition, public events on this issue were held in Berlin. ECCHR also contributed two witness statements to the UN study on accountability in Sri Lanka.


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UN Special Rapporteur

UN Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN with a mandate to work on a voluntary basis on a specific topic (e.g. torture, freedom of expression, or the right to water) or on a geographical region (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Myanmar).

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Sexual and gender-based violence

Rape, sexual assault, forced pregnancy and sexual slavery: these are all sexual violence. In repressive regimes and armed conflict, the military, secret services and police often use these and similar methods as part of their strategy to oppress the civilian population. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is used as a tool against women and girls, as well as men and boys – based on their socially-assigned roles or deviation from such norms (as in the case of LGBTIQ persons). Sexual and gender-based violence attacks the dignity and sexual integrity of those affected. Social norms often prevent those affected from talking about their experiences, and crimes are rarely reported to authorities, prosecuted or dealt with socially. The physical, psychological, economic and social consequences affect the survivors but also their families and communities.

International criminal law allows sexual and gender-based crimes to be prosecuted as acts of genocide, crime against humanity and war crime. In practice, however, investigations, trials and rulings fail to reflect the prevalence and magnitude of these crimes. This is due to gender discrimination being both a root cause of SGBV, as well as the reason impunity for crimes persists. Sexual and gender-based crimes’ depiction and legal classification as an individual, rather than widespread and systematic, crime fails to reflect its frequent nature and the political aim behind their commission.

ECCHR has worked to counter the silencing and trivialization of, and impunity for sexual and gender-based crimes since 2010.


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