The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has filed war crimes charges in Brazil and Colombia against Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Latin America, Jagath Jayasuriya, for his role in the final phase of the civil war in 2009. The United Nations (UN) estimated between 40 and 70 thousand Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the Sri Lankan war and a 2015 UN Investigation found reasonable grounds to conclude the Sri Lankan military had committed systematic and widespread violations of international humanitarian law.
The lawsuit filed in Brasilia and Bogotá on Monday, 28 August 2017, alleges that General Jayasuriya bears individual criminal responsibility as the commander of units that committed repeated attacks on hospitals, acts of torture and sexual violence, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
“It is an outrage that a man like this, named in UN reports, should be sent as a diplomat abroad and accredited given what he has done. The ITJP and its Latin American partners would have liked to see the General stand trial but instead we understand he’s suddenly fled the region and returned to Sri Lanka,” said the ITJP’s executive director, South African human rights lawyer, Yasmin Sooka.“
If he really believed in his innocence, General Jayasuriya would have remained in post and faced the judicial process,” she added. “And if Sri Lanka is really committed to rule of law and accountability this is the moment for them to charge him”.
The filing of the cases in partnership with a number of Latin American organisations was coordinated by Spanish prosecutor, Carlos Castresana Fernández, who was one of the Spanish lawyers who in 1996 initiated the cases against General Videla and General Pinochet in Spain’s National Court and later indicted a number of Guatemalan war criminals and members of organised crime, including the former President Alfonso Portillo, while head of the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
“I am shocked to see there is even more evidence of grave crimes in this law suit than in the cases we started against General Pinochet or Videla,” said Castresana, “Nobody believed at first that the Pinochet case would go anywhere or that the Argentinian Courts would ever be able to make the Military Juntas accountable; nobody believed the Guatemalan security forces could be held accountable, but with a handful of good, committed people I want to tell you that it is possible to deliver justice for the victims. I don't care that he fled Brazil; the case is just starting. He has made things easier for us, because fleeing he will not enjoy immunity anymore.”
General Jagath Jayasuriya was the Vanni Security Force Commander from 2007-9, by his own admission overseeing the entire conduct of the final phase of the war during which Tamil civilians were indiscriminately shelled and bombed and hospitals targeted. General Jayasuriya oversaw the offensive from one of Sri Lanka’s most notorious torture sites, known as “Joseph Camp3”. The ITJP has collected testimony from 14 survivors of torture and/or sexual violence in this camp that occurred while General Jayasuriya was in command of the site. Joseph Camp had purpose - built torture chambers, equipped with manacles and chains, pulleys for hoisting detainees upside down, bars for handcuffing them to the ceiling and underground holding cells. Victims describe hearing other detainees screaming at night, which the General would also have been able to hear from his house in the camp.
The lawsuit also alleges General Jayasuriya, who went on to become Sri Lankan army commander, had command responsibility for acts of extrajudicial execution and the enforced disappearance of hundreds of surrendees at the end of the conflict. Eight years later, the families of the disappeared continue to mount daily protest on the roadsides of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, demanding information about the fate of their sons and daughters, holding up their photographs.
“On 30th August we mark the International Day of the disappeared and as a country that has suffered disappearance, we stand in solidarity with the victims and their families in Sri Lanka,” said Juan Carlos Ospina of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. “We know what it is like to live without justice and if there’s anything we can do to tackle impunity for others we consider it our duty to help,” he added.
For more about the International Truth and Justice Project, refer to www.itjpsl.com.
1 140 000 according toUN Panel of Experts report; 70,000 according to the UN Internal Inquiry Report.
2A /HRC/30/CRP.2, Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), 2015.
3 ITJP report in: English: http://www.itjpsl.com/assets/ITJP_Joseph_camp_report_FINAL.pdf