Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka Leader Sued in US

by AFP, January 28, 2011

The lawsuit seeks $30 million on behalf of three plaintiffs who said their relatives were killed in three incidents, including the Sri Lankan army's offensive in 2009 against the final holdout of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

Bruce Fein in ChennaiWASHINGTON (AFP) – Members of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority have filed a lawsuit in the United States against the island's president, seeking $30 million in damages over alleged extrajudicial killings.

Activists from the Tamil diaspora spearheaded legal action after President Mahinda Rajapakse quietly traveled to the United States, in a test of how much deference US authorities show to visiting heads of state.

Bruce Fein, a prominent Washington lawyer, said he filed the suit on behalf of three plaintiffs under a 1991 act that allows for action in the United States against foreign officials over torture and extrajudicial killings.

"President Rajapakse will not escape the long arm of justice secured by the Torture Victims Protection Act by hiding in Sri Lanka," Fein said after the filing in the US District Court in Washington on Friday.

Fein said he wanted a reply from Rajapakse and otherwise would seek a ruling without him.

The lawsuit seeks $30 million on behalf of three plaintiffs who said their relatives were killed in three incidents, including the Sri Lankan army's offensive in 2009 against the final holdout of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

The United Nations has said at least 7,000 civilians perished in the final months of fighting, while international rights groups have put the toll at more than 30,000.

Sri Lanka has denied any civilian deaths and has rejected calls for an international probe. The Tigers were known for devastating suicide bombings during their decades-long campaign for a separate Tamil homeland.

The Sri Lankan embassy in Washington declined comment, but in Colombo, a spokesman for President Rajapakse dismissed the action as a publicity stunt.

"We have no time for mercenaries funded by the LTTE who want media attention," said Bandula Jayasekera, the director general of the president's media unit and Rajapakse's spokesman.

Rajapakse's office earlier dismissed as "frivolous and mischievous" a call by Amnesty International for the United States to investigate the head of state during his trip.

Rajapakse came to the United States last week on what Sri Lankan officials called a private visit. Tamil diaspora groups, which strongly oppose Rajapakse, said they believed he was visiting family in Texas but has since left.

A US-based activist group calling itself Tamils Against Genocide, which is leading the suit, said in a statement it was "alarmed and disappointed" that US authorities allowed Rajapakse to visit without questions on his actions.

The group said it was testing the law in the wake of the June 2010 Samantar decision by the Supreme Court, which found that countries -- not individuals -- enjoyed diplomatic immunity from lawsuits in the United States.

In the case, the top court ruled unanimously that Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former prime minister of Somaliawho now lives in the United States, may be sued over alleged torture during his rule.

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STATEMENT OF BRUCE FEIN* ON COMPLAINT FILED IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AGAINST SRI LANKAN PRESIDENT MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA FOR MULTIPLE VIOLATIONS OF THE TORTURE VICTIMS PROTECTION ACT

January 28, 2011

Washington, D.C.

           

Today, I filed a Complaint seeking $30 million in damages on behalf of three courageous Plaintiffs against Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The legal action was sponsored by Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a Tamil activist organization based in Maryland.

The Complaint alleges multiple violations of the Torture Victims Protection Act based on President Rajapaksa’s command responsibility for the extrajudicial killings of Raghiar Manoharan, the son of Plaintiff Dr. Kasippillai Manoharan, of Premas Anandarajah, a humanitarian aid worker for Action Against Hunger, and husband of Plaintiff Kalaiselvi Lavan, and four members of the Thevarajah family, all relatives of Plaintiff Jeyakumar Aiyathurai.

President Rajapaksa was visiting one of his brothers in the vicinity of Houston, Texas, earlier this week.  When he learned that I intended to file suit against him, he fled to Sri Lanka like a fugitive from justice in the dead of night to avoid being personally served with the Complaint in Texas.  President Rajapaksa’s flight caused me to alter the venue for filing from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

President Rajapaksa will not escape the long arm of justice secured by the Torture Victims Protection Act by hiding in Sri Lanka.  Extrajudicial killings under color of law are universal torts.  If President Rajapaksa refuses to defend against the Complaint, a default judgment will be sought.

*Bruce Fein previously prepared a 1000-page model genocide indictment for the U.S. Justice Department against Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka for Tamils Against Genocide.