Former Sri Lanka army chief flees Latin America fearing war crimes lawsuit

A former army commander who oversaw the final phase that killed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka's civil war has fled Latin America following a war crimes lawsuit filed against him.

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) and its Latin American partner organisations have filed war crime charges against General Jagath Jayasuriya, who served as the Sri Lanka's ambassador to six Latin American countries. The lawsuit filed in Brasilia, Bogotá and Lima on Monday (28) alleges that General Jayasuriya bears individual criminal responsibility as the commander of units that committed repeated attacks on hospitals, acts of torture and sexual violence, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Six organisations

The JDS has received credible information that Jayasuriya fled Brasil on Sunday (27) via Dubai, fearing the risk of being stripped of his diplomatic immunity.

“It is an outrage that a man like this, named in UN reports, should be sent as a diplomat abroad and accredited given what he has done. The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) and its Latin American partners would have liked to see the General stand trial but instead we understand he’s suddenly fled the region and returned to Sri Lanka,” said the ITJP’s executive director, South African human rights lawyer, Yasmin Sooka. 

“If he really believed in his innocence, General Jayasuriya would have remained in post and faced the judicial process. And if Sri Lanka is really committed to rule of law and accountability this is the moment for them to charge him” she added.

The ITJP filed the cases in partnership with five leading Latin American human rights groups which included Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales  in Argentina, CONECTAS in Brazil, Nelson Caucoto and Associates in Chile, Comisión Colombiana de Juristas in Colombia and the Instituto de Defensa Legal in Peru.

No more immunity

The initiative was coordinated by Spanish prosecutor, Carlos Castresana Fernández, who was one of the Spanish lawyers who in 1996 initiated the cases against General Videla and General Pinochet in Spain’s National Court and later indicted a number of Guatemalan war criminals and members of organized crime, including the former President Alfonso Portillo, while head of the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

“I am shocked to see there is even more evidence of grave crimes in this law suit than in the cases we started against General Pinochet or Videla,” said Castresana.

"I don't care that he fled Brazil; the case is just starting. He has made things easier for us, because fleeing he will not enjoy immunity anymore", he further said.

General Jagath Jayasuriya was the Vanni Security Force Commander from 2007-9, by his own admission overseeing the entire conduct of the final phase of the war during which Tamil civilians were indiscriminately shelled and bombed and hospitals targeted. General Jayasuriya oversaw the offensive from one of Sri Lanka’s most notorious torture sites, known as “Joseph Camp”. The lawsuit also alleges General Jayasuriya, who went on to become Sri Lankan army commander, had command responsibility for acts of extrajudicial execution and the enforced disappearance of hundreds of surrendees at the end of the conflict.

“On 30th August we mark the International Day of the Disappeared and as a country that has suffered disappearance, we stand in solidarity with the victims and their families in Sri Lanka,” said Juan Carlos Ospina of the Colombian Commission of Jurists.

“We know what it is like to live without justice and if there’s anything we can do to tackle impunity for others we consider it
our duty to help,” he added.