‘Arrogance’ led to Sri Lanka ex defence chief getting caught in the US (VIDEO)

An international human rights organisation singles out the 'arrogance' of Sri Lanka's former top defence official as the key factor in him being caught in US lawsuits.

The South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), in partnership with US law firm Hausfeld and human rights lawyer Scott Gilmore, had filed a civil damages case against Gotabaya Rajapaksa on behalf of a Tamil torture survivor, Roy Samathanam.

A separate case had also been filed by California based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of Ahimsa Wickremetunge seeking justice for her assassinated journalist father Lasantha Wickrematunge.

It alleges that the extra-judicial killing in 2009 was “instigated and authorised” by Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had overall command of the military and the police under his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa's rule that was brought to an end four years ago.

Private investigators working on behalf of the legal teams tracked Rajapaksa down on 7 Sunday night to a Trader Joe’s car park in the Californian city of Pasadena, where he was formally served with notice of the civil suits.

Poetic Justice

How did the former defence secretary get caught?

“Hubris is a good word to describe it,” ITJP’s Executive Director told JDS in London.

“You know the arrogance of believing that you will never be held accountable, and so take a chance once more to visit, even though you may be aware that there are people out there who will be monitoring your movements.”

“When you look at his arrogance, when he is visiting a Trader Joe’s store, and that is poetic justice.”

Roy Samathanam, a Canadian national, was arrested on false charges in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo in September 2007 by Sri Lankan police who reported directly to Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the time.

“He was in fact in overall command and control of the Terrorist Investigation Department and in fact dealt directly with the Inspector General, Where both of them also sat and reported on a weekly basis to the national security council. So it is quite easy to prove a direct line to Gotabhaya,” said Yasmin Sooka.

Visiting Sri Lanka to marry his wife, Roy Samathanam was detained for three years and repeatedly denied access to a lawyer or a judge. Guards tortured him, threatened to rape and kill his wife and child, and made him watch the electrocution of other prisoners. He was forced to sign a false confession before being released in August 2010 on a plea deal.

Since his release, Roy has been an outspoken advocate, says ITJP.

UN ruling ignored

In 2011, he testified about his ordeal in the Parliament of Canada. In 2016, Roy Samathanam won a UN Human Rights Committee case, but Sri Lanka has failed to abide by the compensation ruling. It compelled him to seek justice elsewhere.

While I was in prison I learned what inhumanity looks like,” said plaintiff Roy Samathanam. “So far, there has been no accountability, so I am happy to take this first step to get justice. This action will give torture victims in Sri Lanka hope for the future.”

Roy Samathanam was praised for having the courage to come forward and speak openly of what he went through.

“Mr Samathanam was one of countless civilians detained and tortured in Sri Lanka because of their ethnic Tamil identity,” said human rights lawyer Scott Gilmore, who led the compensation case successfully brought by the family of Sunday Times journalist, Marie Colvin, against the Government of Syria. “Under international law, Mr Rajapaksa bears command responsibility for the abuses carried by his security forces.”

Gotabaya Rajapaksa who returned to Sri Lanka on 12 April recieved a rousing welcome at the airport by his supporters who hailed him as the "heroic next president of the nation".

Speaking to media upon his arrival, Rajapaksa said that his 'lawyers will work to obtain a stay of proceedings.'

"It is clear that this legal action was taken because of the upcoming presidential election. Many forces have their influence in this, including an international NGO run by the LTTE" he added.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has got just over two weeks to formally respond to the allegations.☐



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.