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Human rights organizations are alleging war crime violations in several lawsuits filed against a former Sri Lankan general who is now an ambassador to six South American countries. Jagath Jayasuriya is the subject of these lawsuits for his role as a commander in the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The lawsuits cite Jayasuriya’s alleged role as commander of military troops in the north-east of Sri Lanka who have been accused of attacking hospitals, abductions, and the killing and torturing of thousands of innocent civilians. Jayasuriya has diplomatic immunity in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname where he is currently an ambassador.
Although Jayasuriya has the full immunity of prosecution from his crimes, human rights group, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) is working towards getting him expelled and his case investigated. In an interview with BBC’s Newshour programme, lawyer Yasmin Sooka of the International Truth and Justice Project said, “In the pivotal period between 2007-2009 he was really in charge of what was happening in the Vanni area. The UN inquiry found that the army certainly didn’t maintain the distinction between civilians and combatants, and they also violated the law of the question of proportionality. In the last months of the war, hundreds of thousands of Tamils ended up trapped on a tiny strip of land. What was really awful was the perfidious conduct in putting people into no-fire zones and then shelling and bombarding them, which is why you have such a huge loss of life.”
The lawsuits initiated by the International Truth and Justice Project have three central goals according to TIME: to push local authorities to open an investigation on Jayasuriya, to remove his diplomatic immunity and to expel him. Carlos Castresana Fernandez, a lawyer coordinating the lawsuits, said, “This is one genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something. This is just the beginning of the flights” according to TIME. So far, lawsuits have been filed in Brazil and Colombia and petitions are in progress in Argentina, Chile and Peru. Suriname is the only nation with Jayasuriya as an ambassador who has refused to accept the lawsuit.
The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted from 1983 to 2009. As ethnic tensions grew between Sinhalese and Tamil citizens, a group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formed to fight against the government and to establish a separate Tamil state in the northeastern part of the country. The Tamil Tiger rebels have been accused of using innocent civilians as human shields and would shoot people if they tried to escape. On the other hand, the government, including Jayasuriya, has been accused of indiscriminate shelling leading to massive causalities according to the BBC.
Jayasuriya was a commander of the Vanni Security Force from 2007 to 2009, overseeing the notorious torture site Joseph Camp, also known as Vanni. This period was the final stage of the 26-year long war and is considered to be the bloodiest with an estimated casualty count of over 100,000 people, according to TIME. There have been 14 people interviewed by ITJP so far to speak out about the torture and sexual abuse they endured during their time at Joseph Camp. Yasmin Sooka said in March, “There is no way General Jagath Jayasuriya can claim not to have known that torture routinely occurred in his camp; there were purpose built underground torture chambers, equipped with manacles, chains, and pulleys for hoisting victims upside down.” To this day, the Sri Lankan army has denied that Jayasuriya has committed any such war crimes claimed in the lawsuit. To make matters worse, Jayasuriya’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Without the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government to help hold Jayasuriya accountable for his part in the deaths and suffering of thousands of people, the ITJP has a long road ahead of them.