Brazil Cannot be a Safe Haven for War Crimes Suspects

by Juana Kweitel and Sylvia Helena Steiner, Nexo Journal, Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 24, 2017 (translated from the original Portugese by Google Translate)

Sri Lanka’s ambassador is suspected of having participated in the deaths of more than 70,000 people in his country. Itamaraty, however, gave him diplomatic immunity and did not publicly pronounce on denunciations against the general

For two years, Sri Lankan ambassador Jagath Jayasuriya lived among us, receiving decorations from Brazilian officials, attending the diplomatic circle of Brasilia and enjoying the country’s natural beauty as a tourist. Anyone who saw him swimming with Amazonian porpoises or taking photos on Brazilian beaches – photos posted on his personal Facebook profile – would never have imagined that this man was accused of committing war crimes and of having participated in the deaths of 40,000 to 70,000 people in their country, according to data of the organization International Truth and Justice Project .

The Spanish prosecutor Carlos Castresana, the same one who acted in the Pinochet case, denounced Jayasuriya to the Federal Public Ministry on August 28, 2017 for international crimes of war and against humanity committed during the civil conflict in Sri Lanka between 2008 and 2010.

The facts that are imputed to the general are of extreme gravity. In 2007, the Sri Lankan government decided to end the conflict with the so-called Tamil Tigers and planned a military offensive aimed at ending the territorial control of the armed group in the north and east of the country. According to the complaint, based on testimony from 270 UN victims and documents, Jayasuriya was directly involved in the idealization, planning and execution of the military operation.

The complaint alleges that the practice of torture by Sri Lankan security forces was systematic before, during and even after the ceasefire. Hospitals and schools were bombed, men were executed in scenes recorded and distributed over the internet. Children were killed and women raped and murdered. According to the UN report cited in the complaint, Camp Joseph, commanded at that time by General Jayasuriya, was one of the main interrogation and torture centers of the Sri Lankan Army.

Under international criminal law, the general is subject to prosecution and conviction for his responsibility as effective commander of the troops for the crimes committed by soldiers under his effective command and control because of his failure to properly control his troops and to take all necessary measures to prevent, suppress and punish the commission of crimes.

To the surprise of the international community, when the complaint was lodged, the Sri Lankan embassy reported that the ambassador had ceased his duties in Brazil and returned to his country precisely the day before. Jayasuriya simultaneously served as ambassador of Sri Lanka to the republics of Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Suriname.

If on the one hand Jayasuriya escaped diplomatic embarrassment, on the other hand the Brazilian State owes explanations to society. After all, the alleged involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity should have rendered unfit any suspects who were appointed as ambassadors in Brazil or any other country.

However, the MRE (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) extended to General Jayasuriya, offering him diplomatic immunity. Was there any verification of the general’s involvement in the civil war in his country? Despite the enormous international repercussion of the case, the MRE did not take a public stand. The situation became more embarrassing when the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Brazil distributed a note to the international press stating that the Itamaraty had organized a farewell to Jayasuriya, in which the MRE would have praised Jayasuriya’s enormous contribution to strengthening bilateral relations between Brazil and Sri Lanka.

The Jayasuriya case seems to indicate that a thorough review of the Presidency’s and MRE’s criteria is required for the accreditation of diplomats. It is also necessary to create mechanisms to ensure transparency and publicity for this type of act, so that civil society can bring to light facts that impede the accreditation of diplomats.

There is now a profound estrangement from the international community in the face of the fact that Brazil, a signatory to the Rome Statute, has accepted and granted diplomatic immunity to a suspect in crimes against humanity and war crimes. The silence of the Itamaraty which followed the denunciation was constricted to all.

It now remains to be expected that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office will take forward the notitia criminis , and denounce the former ambassador criminal. The issuance of an international arrest warrant against the accused, even though he can not be prosecuted and tried in Brazil after his departure, will make it clear that there are no safe places for war criminals, and will increase international pressure for Sri Lanka to finally initiate a transitional justice process, and judge those responsible for the atrocities of the civil war that dominated that Asian country and left a trail of thousands of victims.

After all, and according to the Preamble of the Rome Statute, to which Brazil is a party, the most serious crimes affecting the international community can not remain unpunished, and the effective submission of the perpetrators to prosecution and prosecution must be ensured either by domestic law or international cooperation.

Juana Kweitel is the executive director of Conectas Human Rights.
Sylvia Helena Steiner is a former judge of the International Criminal Court.

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