19 April 2021
As an ethnic Tamil born in Sri Lanka, Roy Samathanam experienced persecution based on his ethnicity since his childhood. In 1990, he came to Canada as a refugee, and ultimately became a Canadian citizen.
In 2005, Roy took advantage of the lull in the civil war to return to Sri Lanka and get married to his wife. Two years later, armed officers stormed into his house in the middle of the night and arrested him after he was unable to pay a bribe. Roy remained in detention for 3 years, during which he was subjected to various forms of torture and was not permitted to see a lawyer. He was finally released from prison in August 2010 and returned to Canada.
With CCIJ’s help, Roy filed a complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee in 2013, accusing Sri Lanka of violating several of his rights, including his right to freedom from torture. In November 2016, the Committee concluded that Sri Lanka violated Roy’s rights and stated that the government was obligated to take several steps to address these violations.
Today, he reflects on how far he has come and what the future holds.
How do you find the strength to recount your story?
There are so many victims here in Canada. Normally, for my community, people tend to keep silent because of the taboo surrounding these crimes, or because they are scared, or because they still have family back home. For me, it was a very risky decision to speak out, but in the end, I got vindicated. The decision of the UN Human Rights Committee is encouraging. It’s still difficult to talk about what happened, but it was important for me to share my story so that other people would also come forward. I think that if all these people don’t come forward, then no one will be held accountable for it.
Why is justice important to you?
Justice is important because the truth has to come out and the perpetrators need to be punished. There cannot be any compromise there. Torture has been normalized in Sri Lanka. It is widespread. It will only stop once the offenders are punished. It won’t be a normal thing anymore. The decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in my case was very encouraging, but I want it to be followed through. If the perpetrators are not being charged or prosecuted, it shows to the Committee and to the world that individuals can continue violating the rights of others with impunity.
Do you ever talk with your children about what happened to you and why you are seeking justice?
Yes, after a certain age, they started asking questions after seeing my name online. I explained to them why it was important to seek justice and what this process is. In a way, I am seeking justice not only for me, but also for my three children. I want them to know that torture is bad and that you can never stay silent about it, regardless of where you are in the world. You have to speak up and talk for the rights of victims. That is a very important.
In the face of profound adversity and suffering, individuals can show remarkable resilience, resourcefulness, and courage. Roy Samathanam is an exemple. We hope that his story will inspire and encourage other survivors of international crimes who wish to seek redress for the harm they have suffered.
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