Human rights groups in South America are alleging war crimes violations in lawsuits filed against a former Sri Lankan general who is now his Asian nation’s ambassador to Brazil and five other countries in Latin America.
The suits against Jagath Jayasuriya are based on his role as a commander in the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. They allege Jayasuriya oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.
Jayasuriya has diplomatic immunity in the countries where he is ambassador: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname. But the groups pursuing the suits hope they will compel regional governments to expel him.
Carlos Castresana Fernandez, the lawyer coordinating the effort, told The Associated Press yesterday that suits were filed Monday in Brazil and Colombia. Petitions also will be filed in Argentina, Chile and Peru in the coming days, he said, adding that authorities in Suriname refused to accept the suit.
“This is one genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something,” Fernandez said. “This is just the beginning of the fight.”
Calls to the Sri Lankan Embassy in Brazil’s capital went unanswered Monday evening as did an email seeking comment.
Jayasuriya’s whereabouts were not immediately known. Fernandez said Brazilian justice officials told him Jayasuriya had left Brazil on Sunday. That couldn’t be independently confirmed.
The criminal suits, reviewed by the AP, were spearheaded by the human rights group International Truth and Justice Project, an evidence-gathering organization based in South Africa. The suits have three central aims: push local authorities to open investigations of Jayasuriya, remove his diplomatic immunity and expel him.
Many of the nations where Jayasuriya is ambassador have their own dark histories of military dictatorships and torture.
Fernandez, the coordinating lawyer, was one of the attorneys who worked on international cases against Argentine Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla and Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet. He has also helped indict many Guatemalan war criminals and organized crime members, including former President Alfonso Portillo.
While lawsuits across international jurisdictions can be tricky to sort out, such moves can also pay off. In the case of Pinochet, he ended up being arrested and held for a time in England because of international suits filed against him.
The civil war in Sri Lanka, an island off the southern tip of India, raged intermittently between 1983 and 2009.
Fueled in part by ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Tamil citizens, an insurgency against the government was led by a group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They fought to establish a separate Tamil state in the northeastern part of the island.