Call to probe Aussie police over credibly accused Sri Lanka war criminal

Australia's Federal Police came under heavy questioning for its failure to act against a former Sri Lankan army commander over his alleged role in war crimes despite been provided with evidence.

The questions came on the heels of human rights groups urging the Australian Government to impose sanctions against Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya for his command role in atrocities in Sri Lanka and following failure by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate the former Army Commander after he was allowed to enter Australia.

Following the exposure by the International Truth & Justice Project (ITJP), the Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) and the Tamil Refugee Council (TRC) on Thursday, March 31st, AFPs deputy commissioner in charge of investigations was grilled at a senate hearing about not acting on the information at hand.

Senator Nick Mckim opened his questioning at the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee by identifying Jagath Jayasuriya as "a person who has been credibly accused of war crimes in Sri Lanka.".

On 1 October 2019, ITJP, ACIJ and HRLC lodged a formal criminal complaint and a request to investigate Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya to the AFP. The draft indictment totalled 55 pages and was attached to over 4000 pages of publicly available material, including statements from Jayasuriya and credible reports from independent investigators.

"Administrative oversight"

However, no action has been taken even to review the matter until, the groups wrote to the AFP to seek an update on the status almost two years later.

AFP calls their failure an 'administrative error'.

In a futile effort to justify the error Deputy Commissioner McCartney refers to a hitherto unknown 'Sri Lankan domestic commission of inquiry into war crimes' as the way forward.

"Whilst there was a delay and an administrative oversight, this wouldn't have changed the decision that, in our view, the Sri Lankan domestic commission of inquiry into war crimes is the most appropriate body to assess this sort of allegation."

He declined to offer an apology.

"We're not convinced AFP has learnt from its serious mishandling our referral & not convinced by reliance on #LKA's farce "Commission of Inquiry," tweeted ACIJ.

Abject failure

Since the rights groups lodged a complaint, Jagath Jayasuriya had entered Australia at least twice. He has been photographed at events in Melbourne including one to glorify Sri Lanka's military.

"Was it the fact that human rights groups wrote to AFP seeking an update on your investigations, was that what triggered that the AFP becoming aware that there had been an error?" asked Senator Nick McKim.

"That's correct."

"And that was in August last year?"

"That's correct."

"The AFP must answer for their abject failure in the handling of a serious criminal referral and our warning that an accused war criminal was roaming freely in Australia," says Rawan Arraf, Executive Director at ACIJ.

"There must be an inquiry into its mess. Home Affairs needs to answer for how Jayasuriya was able to pass the character test to enter Australia on multiple occasions."

Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council was outraged that Australia allowed Jagath Jayasuriya to enter the country witout any scrutiny.

“There are hundreds of war and torture survivors from Sri Lanka in our community, some of them Australian citizens, many of them sought refuge here after the crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan army under the command of Jagath Jayasuriya. It’s outrageous he was allowed into Australia as a free man without any scrutiny for his crimes. Australia must listen to the survivors and either prosecute him or sanction him now.”

'Safe heaven'

The International Truth and Justice Project that has filed multiple cases against Jagath Jayasuriya, has urged Australia to use universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

“Australia should not become a haven for alleged war criminals from Sri Lanka – especially as the large Tamil community flourishing there, expects their government to honour their human rights obligations to victims. Magnitsky sanctions are an important tool for the international community to assert the truth for victims in situations when the country itself is unwilling to act,” said ITJP Executive Director Yasmin Sooka.

In March 2021, Australia joined other countries at the UNHRC to endorse a call for Sri Lanka war crimes accused to be tried in foreign countries.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.