Rights watchdog fires salvo on Sri Lanka’s top defence official

Sri Lanka's top defence official came under attack for mass atrocities from an international body investigating human rights abuses in the country, weeks after a new government took office under alleged war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The latest target of International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) is a military commander newly appointed to the powerful secretary of defence post.

Releasing a damning 100-page dossier about Major General Kamal Gunaratne, on the international human rights day, ITJP says that it has compelling evidence to charge him with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Most of the alleged crimes have been committed when the present Sri Lankan leader was secretary of defence in his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, which waged a bloody war against Tamil rebels killing an estimated 70,000 civillians in 2009.

The Gunaratne report follows an ITJP publication earlier this year of a dossier on the country’s army chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva. The South Africa based organization has published several dossiers on high-ranking military and public officials in Sri Lanka who have allegedly committed serious human rights violations.

Kamal and Shavendra

“There is just as compelling a prima facie case against Kamal Gunaratne as there was against the current Army Commander, Shavendra Silva,” said the ITJP’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka. “Sri Lanka is intentionally and deliberately promoting impunity by appointing alleged war criminals to positions of power,” she added.

Both Gunaratne and Silva has served in the Gajaba regiment under Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

As 53 division commander, Gunaratne led the assault from the southern front on Puthukkudiyiruppu in February 2009, according to his autobiography “Road to Nandikadal”, directly receiving orders from Rajapaksa II.

Kamal Gunaratne’s forces were then part of the assaults on Puthukkudiyiruppu, Putumattalan and Mullivaikkal, which involved repeated attacks on civilian hospitals, makeshift hospitals and food distribution points, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian objects.

Torture, rape and sexual slavery

Members of the 53 Division under the command of Major General Kamal Gunaratne are also alleged by the UN to have been involved in torture and rape during or after the war.

The Sri Lankan Army has credited Gunaratne’s 53 Division with the killing of well-known TV presenter Isaipriya. She was filmed alive surrendering to the Sri Lankan army; forensic analysis of images of her corpse conducted by the United Nations shows she was summarily executed and her body desecrated. ITJP has found no indication that Gunaratne tried to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such violations or to punish those responsible.

Major General Kamal Gunaratne was one of those in command of the Manik farm, a detention centre in which hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were unlawfully detained in the immediate aftermath of the war in 2009.

ITJP says it has collected further evidence of rape and sexual violence in Manik farm including of children.

“Testimony collected indicates that sexual slavery was widespread and systematic in Manik farm”.

Joint Criminal Enterprise

“The appointment of Major General Kamal Gunaratne as the Defence Secretary in Sri Lanka represents a clear signal to victims and the international community that the newly elected government of Sri Lanka has no intention of realizing its domestic and international obligations to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights," the report concludes.

ITJP also warns of “a major ethical dilemma” international powers will be facing with Sri Lanka “intentionally and deliberately promoting impunity by appointing alleged war criminals to positions of power.”

“The appointment of Major General Kamal Gunaratne as the Defence Secretary poses a major ethical dilemma for countries that purport to adhere to international law and human rights standards,” said Yasmin Sooka. “When you start looking at the appointments made by the newly elected President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, you cannot help wondering if the President and some members of his new regime could be considered a joint criminal enterprise, who could all find themselves on trial one day when their immunity runs out”.☐



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.