By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Three days after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) accused the Sri Lankan government of breaking up a party meeting, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa declined to appear before a United States district court to answer for war crimes that he allegedly committed. The thirty million dollar claim was filed by a US-based Tamil lobby firm for the supposed killing of three members of the island’s ethnic Tamil minority by government troops.
The complaint alleges six violations of the US Torture Victims Protection Act. The plaintiffs claim that as commander-in-chief over the military, the president is responsible for torture and killings that occur during war when civilians victims exist. Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath told AFP “under our laws, the president has immunity.” A member of the External Affairs Ministry told the Sydney Morning Herald that the courts actions were designed to embarrass the President and his government, and it would not be responded to.
The TNA said Friday morning army troops stormed into a party meeting Thursday evening and chased away supporters. The purpose of the meeting according to TNA was to discuss the upcoming local government elections scheduled for July 23rd. “Despite our security guards telling them that we are members of parliament, around thirty military personnel in their uniforms attacked with batons,” E. Saravanabawan, a Jaffna district Tamil legislator told Reuters. A statement released by TNA stated “several soldiers in full uniform, carrying automatic weapons and long poles in their hands, rushed into the hall and started assaulting the people, about thirty of them were led by an officer who wore a t-shirt and army fatigue trousers and boots.”
The TNA statement further explained that when the military arrived M.A. Sumanthiran, a TNA legislator, spoke to an officer who appeared to hold the rank of a major. The officer told the lawmaker that the meeting did not have police permission and could not continue. Sumanthiran then attempted to explain to the officer that the meeting did not require any police permission because it was an internal party meeting, and even if it did require police permission, it would be a matter for TNA and the police to resolve together, not the military. Soldiers then marched into the hall and ended the meeting.
The day after the purported attack, military spokesman Major General Ubaya Medawela said he was unaware of any military involvement in the incident but added that police had begun an investigation. On Monday, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse ordered the Jaffna Army Commander, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe, to conduct an extensive investigation of the military attack on TNA. Rajapaske, who is the president’s brother, ordered Hathurusinghe to immediately arrest the culprits, reported the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Hathurusinghe met with TNA legislators about the issue and explained that the military has no intension to disrupt the peace in the area.
This incident highlights the issues the Sri Lankan government face following a twenty-six year civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers. The conflict ended in May of 2009 when the government defeated the rebels who fought for a separate state in the north. The government offensive that ended the war has been described as ruthless, as more than 100,000 people were killed throughout the war, and both sides have accused the other of committing war crimes. The government is now under heavy pressure from the United Nations to set up an independent investigation into crimes committed during the war.
Other members of the government of Sri Lanka are also under investigation. Dr. Palitha Kohona, a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and Australia, who served as foreign secretary during the war and is now Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations, has been accused of engineering the surrender of key rebel leaders under white flags only to have them shot by troops, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. Dr. Kohona proclaimed his innocence explaining that he never had any military authority especially in dealing with the surrender of terrorists. A petition against Dr. Kohona has been received by the International Criminal Court.
Many northern TNA lawmakers have complained about the continued poor treatment of minority Tamils and continue to plead with the government to find a solution to the problem. In response to Thursday evening’s incident Keerthi Tennakoon, spokesman for Campaign for Free and Fair Election, a non-government organization which monitors polls in the island nation stated, “This proves that there is no environment for people in the north to exercise their political rights freely. There is a semi-military administration in north.” The Sri Lankan government has said that it is doing its best to restore the country to its pre-war state and the current military ruling will be dissolved.
The next round of talks to find a solution to the country’s social problems are scheduled for June 23rd. The Sinhala Sunday newspaper The Divaina quoted government sources saying the government’s proposed plan is to give more power to the Tamils.
For more information, please see:
MSN News — Sri Lanka govt orders probe into ”army attack” on Tamil party — 21 June 2011
AFP — Sri Lanka president rejects US court summons – 20 June 2011
Sydney Morning Herald – War crimes summons against Sri Lanka President – 20 June 2011
Colombo Page — Sri Lanka’s major Tamil constituent wants the government to propose a solution for the ethnic problem – 18 June 2011
AFP — Sri Lanka Tamil MPs ‘beaten up by troops’ – 17 June 2011
Channel Six News — Sri Lankan Tamil party accuses army of attacking its election meeting – 17 June 2011
IBN Live — Lankan army storm Tamil party meeting: TNA — 17 June 2011
Reuters — Sri Lanka Tamil party says military attacked its poll campaign — 17 June 2011