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Rights group files criminal complaint with Singapore; demands arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for war crimes

Mon, 25 Jul 2022   |  Reading Time: 2 minutes

Singapore/Johannesburg, Jul 24 (PTI) A South Africa-based human rights group has filed a criminal complaint with Singapore, demanding the arrest of Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his role in the island nation’s decades-long civil war against the LTTE.

Gotabaya, who is currently in Singapore after fleeing his country in the face of public revolt against his government over mismanaging the economy, served as the defence secretary during his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as president from 2005 to 2014. Though dubbed as the “war hero”, Gotabaya’s role in ending the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with the death of its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2009 is quite divisive as he stands accused of violating human rights, a charge he vehemently denies.

Lawyers from South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) have submitted a criminal complaint to the Attorney General of Singapore requesting the immediate arrest of 73-year-old Gotabaya Rajapaksa for war crimes. The 63-page complaint argues that Gotabaya Rajapaksa committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the civil war in 2009 when he was secretary of defence and that these are crimes subject to domestic prosecution in Singapore under universal jurisdiction.

The ITJP submission to the Attorney General calls for the arrest, investigation and indictment of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said a statement issued by the rights group on Sunday. The dossier submitted focuses mainly on his role as Sri Lanka’s secretary of defence, during the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

The legal complaint argues Gotabaya Rajapaksa committed grave breaches to the Geneva Conventions and violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law during the civil war in Sri Lanka. Detailed evidence is adduced to show that Rajapaksa issued direct orders by telephone to his former military buddies whom he appointed as Major Generals to command the offensive and watched the conduct of the battle live on surveillance and drone footage in headquarters.

The dossier submitted by the ITJP contains accounts of repeated and deliberate strikes by the army on civilians sheltering in earthen bunkers, killed while queuing for food or receiving first aid treatment in hellish conditions lying on the floor of makeshift clinics. “Such linkage information makes Gotabaya Rajapaksa complicit in the wilful killing of civilians and other heinous crimes, including torture, starvation and sexual violence committed in 2009,” said Alexandra Lily Kather, one of the international lawyers who drafted the complaint to the Singporean authorities.

“This is an opportunity for Singapore to use its own laws in pursuit of justice and protect the world from a man who has a hideous history of gross violations of human rights against all the different communities of Sri Lanka. Serial perpetrators must face trial, not be issued visas.” In 2019, the ITJP with the international law firm Hausfeld LLP assisted 11 victims of torture to file a civil case against Rajapaksa in California.

The case was withdrawn when he was elected President in 2019 and acquired head of state immunity. That immunity no longer applies now he has resigned from office. This is believed to be the first criminal complaint against him.

Singaporean opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam welcomed the call for Rajapaksa to be arrested, investigated and charged in Singapore. “The international community must now exert maximum pressure to see that the Rajapaksas are brought to justice and that Singapore steps up to its international obligations,” Jeyaretnam said.



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