RIO DE JANEIRO — A former Sri Lankan general accused of war crimes by human rights groups has left Brazil, where until recently he was his country’s ambassador to six nations in South America, an embassy official said Tuesday.
Jagath Jayasuriya left Brazil on Sunday to return to Sri Lanka after completing his two-year tour of service, acting head of mission Premaphilake Jayakody told The Associated Press.
“He is no longer ambassador,” Jayakody said.
He declined to comment on allegations in criminal suits that rights groups began filing the previous day in the six countries where Jayasuriya represented Sri Lanka.
The suits are based on Jayasuriya’s role as a commander in the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. They allege he oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.
Jayasuriya had diplomatic immunity in the countries where he was ambassador, and the groups pursuing the suits had hoped to compel governments to expel him. With the apparent end of his ambassadorship, he would no longer enjoy that diplomatic protection if he were to return.
On Monday, Carlos Castresana Fernandez, the lawyer coordinating the effort, said suits had been filed in Brazil and Colombia and more were coming soon for Argentina, Chile and Peru. He said Suriname had refused to accept the petition.
“This is one genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something,” Fernandez said. “This is just the beginning of the fight.”
The criminal suits, reviewed by the AP, were spearheaded by the human rights group International Truth and Justice Project, an evidence-gathering organization based in South Africa. They had three central aims: push local authorities to open investigations of Jayasuriya, remove his diplomatic immunity and expel him.
With Jayasuriya out of the country, the petitions can be amended to ask for arrest warrants in the case he returns, Fernandez said.
Speaking to reporters in London, Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project, said they believed that Jayasuriya had been tipped off about plans for the suits and fled.
“We discovered by tracking him that in fact by 10:00 last night he had reached Dubai,” said Sooka. “That means that he took a direct flight from Brazil to Dubai and he made sure that he didn’t cross any of the other countries like the U.S., the U.K. or Europe where he could potentially have been picked up.”
The nations where Jayasuriya was ambassador have their own dark histories of violence, including military dictatorships, torture and the killing or disappearance of thousands.
Fernandez, the coordinating lawyer, was one of the attorneys who worked on international cases against former dictators Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina and Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile. He has also helped win indictments in war crimes and organized crime cases in Guatemala, including one against ex-President Alfonso Portillo.
The civil war in Sri Lanka, an island off the southern tip of India, raged intermittently between 1983 and 2009. Fueled in part by ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Tamil citizens, an insurgency against the government was led by a group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They fought to establish a separate Tamil state in the northeastern part of the island.
The suits say Jayasuriya was commander of the Vanni Security Force from 2007 to 2009, one of the bloodiest periods in a war estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people. The U.N. estimates between 40,000 and 70,000 died in the final phase alone.
According to the suits, Jayasuriya oversaw an offensive from Joseph Camp, also known as Vanni, which the papers claim was a notorious torture site.
The International Truth and Justice Project said it interviewed 14 survivors of torture or sexual violence at the camp. According to the group, victims described hearing the howls of detainees at night, which the suits contend Jayasuriya would have been able to hear.
A few years after the war ended, Jayasuriya retired from the military. He was appointed ambassador to Brazil in 2015, and the other countries were added to his purview over the following two years.
Human rights groups have long been after Jayasuriya, but the Sri Lankan government has refused to try him or others allegedly involved in war crimes.
Associated Press video journalist Kevin Scott in London contributed to this report.