‘We must not lose hope’: Activists and victims call for war crimes charges against ex-Sri Lanka president

Sandya Eknaligoda was in disbelief when she heard the news that Sri Lanka’s former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had fled the country in the early hours of Wednesday in July.

A month and a half later, the human rights activist still can’t fathom that the moment she dreamed and prayed for has “finally become a reality.”

It felt like justification, but it was also an opportunity. Rajapaksa is no longer protected by the immunity that comes with the presidency and could be charged with war crimes committed while he was secretary of defense and head of the military overseeing Shuri’s demise. Lanka’s decades-long civil war.

Months of widespread protests over Sri Lanka’s economic crisis forced Rajapaksa to abruptly resign in July. But Eknaligoda has spent years taunting the president responsible for the enforced disappearance of her husband more than 12 years before her.

According to Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), on January 24, 2010, journalist and cartoonist Phraghyth Eknaligoda disappeared at the hands of military intelligence, along with his wife and two teenage sons. became. their main breadwinner.

His wife has since fought to prosecute those responsible.

Sandhya Eknaligoda, who has fought for justice since her husband disappeared in January 2010, sees the ousting and resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as an opportunity to hold him accountable for alleged war crimes. thinking about. (Salima Shivji/CBC)

During the civil war that ended in 2009, when Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda was president and Gotabaya was secretary of defense, Rajapaksa’s brother Rajapaksa persecuted critics and chased away suspected journalists, activists and civilians in so-called “white ban forces.” was accused of directing Links to the rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers. Some were tortured and released, while thousands, like Plaggis Eknaligoda, went missing.

“My main struggle was to keep his memory from fading like he did until justice was brought to him,” Eknaligoda, 59, said earlier this month in a town in the southeastern outskirts of the capital Colombo. He spoke at his home in Kotawa.

“It won’t be easy,” she said, referring to the legal battle to hold Gotabaya Rajapaksa accountable for alleged complicity in the torture and killing. “But we still have a chance to move forward. We shouldn’t let it go.”

“well-documented documents” of evidence

According to Yasmine Souka, a human rights lawyer and executive director of a South African-based human rights group, this was done to create a “very well-documented document” of evidence against Rajapaksa dating back to 1989. It is a consensus among lawyers and human rights organizations who have been passionate about International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).

The group claims ultimate responsibility and chain of command for crimes committed by government forces during the civil war lay in the hands of Rajapaksa, although he denies that.

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (right) is seen arriving at Bangkok International Airport on August 11. He fled Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on July 13 and officially resigned from his twos amid widespread anger over his role in the country’s economic collapse. A few days later he was in Singapore. (Tananchai Keawsowattana/Reuters)

“Unless he’s immune, it opens the gates and gives hope to many of the victims.

On July 24, the ITJP filed a criminal complaint with the Attorney General of Singapore, where Rajapaksa first fled, calling for his arrest under the country’s Geneva Conventions law. Their hope was that the deposed president would be held accountable under universal jurisdiction. The idea is that courts in any country can try people for crimes against humanity committed elsewhere.

Although rare, it has been used to prosecute war criminals fleeing countries where atrocities have been documented. He said he was “very aware” that he was “very unwilling” to pursue a rights lawsuit.

Still, despite Rajapaksa’s defection to Thailand, she remains optimistic that there may be some legal action in this case.

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After the president fled the country, a large-scale civil war continues in Sri Lanka. Protesters are calling for his resignation, citing the economic crisis.

Instead, ITJP relies on several countries that have extradition agreements with Thailand, including the US, UK and France. Any one of these governments would be happy to demand the extradition of Rajapaksa and expect prosecution in their own country. .

In 2011, a UN commission found that there were “credible allegations” of atrocities committed by both Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil tigers, some of which amounted to war crimes or crimes against humanity. I judged.

The United Nations and other organizations have documented torture, summary executions, sexual violence, and thousands of enforced disappearances.

demand accountability

Earlier this year, another scathing report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the Sri Lankan government of “unwillingness to recognize and seek accountability for serious international crimes”. The report urges countries around the world to consider universal jurisdiction and targeted sanctions against alleged perpetrators.

Sandia Eknaligoda stands with other demonstrators at a memorial rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2012 to mark the 1,000th day of her husband’s disappearance. He is now over 4,500 days dead. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

“We must not lose hope of ‘accountability’ at some point,” Souka said, emphasizing what she sees as her group’s multifaceted judicial strategy.

“Gotabaya is also important. [Rajapaksa] I have to fly around… It’s the anxiety that he doesn’t know where he’s going to be safe. ”

The hope that Rajapaksa could be indicted somewhere “isn’t as far-fetched or far-fetched as some people think,” said the executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think tank. Paikyaasoshi Saravanamthu, “But it’s certainly not something that happens in a hurry.”

Other lawsuits against Rajapaksa are ongoing, including a rehearing of the 2019 civil lawsuit in the United States. Under the country’s Torture Victims Protection Act, ITJP submitted on behalf of a handful of Sri Lankan torture victims.

The lawsuit, in which Rajapaksa received court papers in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s grocery store in California in April 2019, proved he was “not invincible,” Sooka said.

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“No one believed that this man who was called the ‘Terminator’ was going to be handed papers,” she said. “We could do it.”

Yet, just over six months later, Rajapaksa was elected president of Sri Lanka and granted immunity from prosecution.

Seeking justice outside Sri Lanka

Further complicating the renewed pressure on Rajapaksa to account is rumors that he is preparing to return to Sri Lanka.The United Nations has repeatedly criticized Sri Lanka’s internal accountability mechanisms.

Similarly, Rajapaksa’s political allies remain in power in Sri Lanka, and the devastating economic crisis has been largely attributed to the former president’s mismanagement of finances.

Glancing at a faded photo of her husband in her living room, which has been set up as a permanent altar to the man she last saw 12 and a half years ago, Sandia Eknaligoda said, “We are moving outside Sri Lanka for justice. Must see

Thousands of Sri Lankans have gone missing during decades of civil war, often driven away by “white vans”. (Indunil Usgoda Arachchi/Reuters)

She is desperate for a more coordinated international effort to prosecute the former president, but Rajapaksa is being prosecuted in her country, where she has fought for years to expose and explain her husband’s abduction. She was silent when asked if she thought

“There is one thing we have to keep in mind: Sri Lankan politicians always protect each other,” Eknaligoda said. “What is happening here is still what Rajapaxas wants.”

‘We must not lose hope’: Activists and victims call for war crimes charges against ex-Sri Lanka president

Source link ‘We must not lose hope’: Activists and victims call for war crimes charges against ex-Sri Lanka president

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