COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A human rights group said Sunday it had filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s attorney general to seek the arrest of Sri Lanka’s former president for alleged war crimes during his country’s civil war.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was ousted from office over his country’s economic collapse and fled to Singapore earlier this month. He was defense secreRights group alleges Rajapaksa committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the Sri Lankan civil war.tary during Sri Lanka’s civil war, which ended in 2009.
The International Truth and Justice Project—an evidence-gathering organization administered by a South Africa-based nonprofit foundation—said its lawyers filed the complaint requesting Rajapaksa’s immediate arrest. The complaint alleges Rajapaksa committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the civil war “and that these are crimes subject to domestic prosecution in Singapore under universal jurisdiction.”
Learn more What Sri Lanka’s Crisis Means to the World
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has left the nation’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. Protests focused for months on Rajapaksa’s political dynasty which has ruled Sri Lanka for the majority of the last two decades.
“The economic meltdown has seen the government collapse, but the crisis in Sri Lanka is really linked to structural impunity for serious international crimes going back three decades or more,” said the ITJP’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
Sri Lankan army officers marche to mark the 3rd anniversary of the cessation of civil war.
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images
“This complaint recognizes that it’s not just about corruption and economic mismanagement but also accountability for mass atrocity crimes,” she added.
Sri Lanka’s civil war killed 100,000 people, according to conservative United Nations estimates. However, the real number may be higher. An international panel of experts reported that at least 40,000 Tamil civil servants died in the fighting’s final months.
The Tamil Tiger rebels sought to establish an independent Tamil state. The country’s ethnic Sinhala majority credited Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa with the war victory, cementing the family’s political dominance, though accounts of atrocities, autocratic governance and nepotism persisted.
Rajapaksas largely repressed efforts to investigate claims of war crimes.
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Ranil Wickremesinghe, the remaining presidential term of Gotabayarajapaksa was elected by lawmakers after he fled the country. He declared a state of emergency with broad powers to act to ensure law and order, and a day after he was sworn in, hundreds of armed troops raided a protest camp outside the president’s office, attacking demonstrators with batons.
Rights groups have urged the president to immediately order troops and police to cease use of force and said Friday’s display seemed to follow a pattern of Sri Lankan authorities forcefully responding to dissent.
The political turmoil has threatened Sri Lanka’s potential for economic recovery. Wickremesinghe said recently that bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are nearing completion.
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