'We should not lose hope': Activists, victims search battle crimes costs in opposition to ex-Sri Lankan president

When Sandya Eknaligoda bought the information that former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa had fled the nation in disgrace aboard a navy jet inside the wee hours of a Wednesday in July, she might not pretty think about it.

A month and a half later, the human rights activist nonetheless can not fathom that the second she had dreamed of and prayed for “had lastly develop proper into a actuality.”

It felt like vindication however additionally a likelihood: Rajapaksa was not protected by the immunity that comes with the office of presidency, and ought to very properly be prosecuted for alleged battle crimes dedicated whereas he was defence secretary and head of the armed forces overseeing the tip of Sri Lanka’s many years-prolonged civil battle.

Months of widespread protests over Sri Lanka’s financial disaster spurred Rajapaksa’s abrupt resignation in July. however Eknaligoda has spent years cursing the president, whom she holds answerable for the enforced disappearance of her husband greater than 12 years in the past.

Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist and cartoonist, vanished on Jan. 24, 2010, by the fingers of a navy intelligence unit, based mostly on Sri Lanka’s felony Investigations division (CID), and was by no means seen as quickly as extra, leaving his spouse and two teenage sons with out their foremost breadwinner. 

His spouse has been combating ever since to prosecute these accountable.

Sandya Eknaligoda, who has been combating for justice since her husband disappeared in January 2010, sees the ouster and resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa as an alternative to maneuver forward in holding him to account for alleged battle crimes. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

in the course of the civil battle that led to 2009, whereas Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda was president and Gotabaya was defence secretary, the youthful Rajapaksa was accused of persecuting critics and overseeing what had been referred to as “white van squads” that carted away journalists, activists and civilians suspected of hyperlinks to the rebels, usually referred to as the Tamil Tigers. Some had been tortured and launched, whereas 1000’s of others, like Prageeth Eknaligoda, merely disappeared. 

“My foremost battle has been to be sure Prageeth’s reminiscence does not disappear, like he did, till there might even be justice for him,” said Eknaligoda, fifty nine, in her house in Kottawa, a suburb southeast of the capital, Colombo, earlier this month. 

“it is not going to be straightforward,” she said, referring to the authorized battle to maintain Gotabaya Rajapaksa to account for alleged complicity in torture and killings. “however we nonetheless have an alternative to maneuver forward. we ought to always not let it go.” 

A ‘properly-documented file’ of proof

that is the consensus amongst attorneys and human rights teams, which have labored doggedly to assemble a “very properly-documented file” of proof in opposition to Rajapaksa relationship again to 1989, based mostly on Yasmin Sooka, human rights lawyer and authorities director of the South Africa-based mostly worldwide fact and Justice mission (ITJP).

The group alleges the final phrase obligation and chain of command for crimes dedicated by authorities forces in the course of the civil battle was in Rajapaksa’s fingers, an accusation he denies. 

Former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, proper, is seen arriving at Bangkok worldwide airport on Aug. eleven. He fled Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on July thirteen amid widespread protests and anger over his position inside the nation’s financial collapse, and formally resigned two days later, as quickly as he was in Singapore. (Tananchai Keawsowattana/Reuters)

“as prolonged as he does not have immunity, it does open up the gates and it does give hope to loads of the victims,” Sooka said. 

On July 24, the ITJP filed a felony criticism with the legal professional fundamental in Singapore, the place Rajapaksa first fled, asking that he be arrested underneath that nation’s Geneva Conventions Act. Their hope was that the ousted president might very properly be held accountable underneath common jurisdiction — the idea that any nation’s courts can try of us for alleged crimes in opposition to humanity dedicated elsewhere.

It has been used, although not often, to prosecute battle criminals who’ve escaped the nations the place atrocities had been documented. however Sooka said her group is keenly conscious that, for political causes, many governments are “not going inclined” to pursue common jurisdiction cases.

nonetheless, she is optimistic there might be some authorized movement on this event, although Rajapaksa has absconded to Thailand, the place the regulation does not permit the common jurisdiction argument for battle crimes.

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instead, the ITJP is leaning on a quantity of nations which have extradition agreements with Thailand — similar to a end result of the usa, the united kingdom and France — inside the hopes a variety of governments might be prepared to request that Rajapaksa be extradited and face costs of their nation.

In 2011, a United Nations panel found there have been “credible allegations” of atrocities dedicated by each the Sri Lankan authorities forces and the Tamil Tigers, simply a few of which amounted to battle crimes or crimes in opposition to humanity. 

The UN and completely different organizations documented torture, abstract executions and sexual violence, as properly as to 1000’s of enforced disappearances.

looking for accountability

Earlier this 12 months, one other damning report from the UN’s extreme Commissioner on Human Rights referred to as out the Sri Lankan authorities for “its unwillingness to acknowledge extreme worldwide crimes and pursue accountability.” The report went on to induce nations all by the world to ponder common jurisdiction and focused sanctions in opposition to alleged perpetrators. 

Sandya Eknaligoda stands with completely different demonstrators at a 2012 vigil in Colombo, Sri Lanka, marking 1,000 days since her husband disappeared. he is now been gone greater than 4,500 days. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

“we ought to always not lose hope” for accountability “in some unspecified time inside the tip,” Sooka said, emphasizing what she sees as her group’s multi-pronged judicial approach, which consists of further authorized movement and a push to have nations slap sanctions on Rajapaksa’s belongings. 

“it is additionally crucial that Gotabaya [Rajapaksa] has to hop from place to place…. it is the insecurity of by no means understanding the place he’ll be safe.” 

The hope that Rajapaksa would possibly face costs someplace is “not as far-fetched or far off as some of us suppose,” based mostly on Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, authorities director of the Colombo-based mostly suppose-tank Centre for coverage options. “however it certainly’s definitely not one factor that is going to happen in a rush.” 

completely different lawsuits in opposition to Rajapaksa are inside the works, collectively with a refiling of a 2019 civil case inside the U.S. — underneath that nation’s Torture Victims safety Act — that the ITJP submitted on behalf of a handful of Sri Lankan torture victims. 

That go well with — for which Rajapaksa was served court docket papers in April 2019, inside the car car parking zone of a dealer Joe’s grocery retailer in California — proved that he was “not invincible,” based mostly on Sooka. 

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“nobody had believed that this man, who had been referred to as ‘The Terminator,’ would ever let himself be served with papers,” she said. “We had been in a place to do this.” 

And but, a bit greater than half a 12 months later, Rajapaksa was elected president of Sri Lanka and granted immunity from prosecution.

looking for justice exterior Sri Lanka

further complicating the renewed push to maintain Rajapaksa to account are rumours he is getting ready a return to Sri Lanka, the place specialists think about it is unlikely he would face consequence for alleged battle crimes. The United Nations has repeatedly condemned Sri Lanka’s inside accountability mechanisms.

As properly, Rajapaksa’s political allies are nonetheless in vitality in Sri Lanka, the place a crippling financial disaster has largely been blamed on the earlier president’s fiscal mismanagement.

“we have now to look past Sri Lanka for justice,” said Sandya Eknaligoda, glancing on the mild photographs of her husband in her entrance room, arrange as a everlasting shrine to the particular person she final noticed 12½ years in the past.

1000’s of Sri Lankans disappeared in the course of the nation’s many years-prolonged civil battle, in lots of cases whisked away by ‘white van squads.’ (Indunil Usgoda Arachchi/Reuters)

whereas she longs for a extra concerted worldwide effort to prosecute the earlier president, she was muted when requested if she believed Rajapaksa would face costs inside her nation, the place she has fought for years to have her husband’s abduction uncovered and defined. 

“We should hold one factor in thoughts: Politicians in Sri Lanka will always defend every completely different,” Eknaligoda said. “What occurs right here stays to be very a lot what the Rajapaksas want.”