ITJP: Criminal Complaint against Sri Lankan ex-President in Singapore

by International Truth & Justice Project Sri Lanka, South Africa, July 24, 2022

ITJP Press-release-final-24-July-2022

Johannesburg: Lawyers from the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) have submitted a
criminal complaint to the Attorney General of Singapore requesting the immediate arrest of
former Sri Lankan President, Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for war crimes. The 63-page
complaint argues that Rajapaksa committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions during
the civil war in 2009 when he was secretary of defence and that these are crimes subject to
domestic prosecution in Singapore under universal jurisdiction1.   Mr. Rajapaksa fled to Singapore
in mid-July after months of mass protests calling for his resignation.

“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. “This complaint recognises that it’s not just
about corruption and economic mismanagement but also accountability for mass atrocity

Image courtesy The Island, July 25, 2022

The ITJP submission to the Attorney General calls for the arrest, investigation and indictment of
Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It begins by outlining his role as a former military commander in 1989, in
charge of a district where at least 700 people disappeared under his watch. But the document
focuses mainly on his role as Sri Lanka’s secretary of defence, during the end of the country’s civil
war in 2009.

The legal complaint argues Gotabaya Rajapaksa committed grave breaches to the Geneva
Conventions and violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law
during the civil war in Sri Lanka. These include murder, execution, torture and inhuman
treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, deprivation of liberty, severe bodily and
mental harm, and starvation.

Detailed evidence is adduced to show that Rajapaksa issued direct orders by telephone to his
former military buddies whom he appointed as Major Generals to command the offensive and
watched the conduct of the battle live on surveillance and drone footage in headquarters. The
dossier submitted by the ITJP contains accounts of repeated and deliberate strikes by the army
on civilians sheltering in earthen bunkers, killed while queuing for food or receiving first aid
treatment in hellish conditions lying on the floor of makeshift clinics.

It details how the decision to expel aid workers from the war zone in September 2008 was
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s and designed to hide the extent of human suffering from the eyes of the
world. Even United Nations officesin the war zone were repeatedly hit by the Sri Lankan air force
to encourage aid workers to flee and yet Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself boasted that the air force
could pin point targets; he said they surveilled targets and planned and reviewed every air strike.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ministry was in charge of approving humanitarian deliveries to the war
zone and although he sat in meetings with humanitarian agencies who repeatedly warned that
the civilian population were in desperate need of life-saving medicine and food, he denied
permission to send in supplies. Tamil mothers who survived the war routinely describe being so
hungry they were unable to breastfeed their babies in the war zone, while milk powder and food
queues visibly made up of women and children were repeatedly attacked with heavy artillery,
shortly after surveillance drones had flown overhead.

Every hospital and makeshift medical clinic for civilians was attacked in 2009 by the Sri Lankan
armed forces, including the district hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu which Gotabaya Rajapaksa
claimed to Sky TV was a legitimate target because it lay outside an area the government
unilaterally designated for civilians. The night the hospital, packed with the injured, was attacked
by 50 shells according to a UN investigation, media reports said Gotabaya Rajapaksa, himself an
ex army officer, had been in the Operations Room all night watching.

“Such linkage information makes Gotabaya Rajapaksa complicit in the wilful killing of civilians
and other heinous crimes, including torture, starvation and sexual violence committed in 2009,”
said Alexandra Lily Kather, one of the international lawyers who drafted the complaint to the
Singporean authorities. “The concept of universal jurisdiction assumes there are certain crimes
that are of concern to humanity as a whole and states have an obligation to prosecute them
domestically regardless of where they were committed, against whom or by whom. This is an
opportunity for Singapore to use its own laws in pursuit of justice and protect the world from a
man who has a hideous history of gross violations of human rights against all the different
communities of Sri Lanka. Serial perpetrators must face trial, not be issued visas.”

In 2019 the ITJP with the international law firm Hausfeld LLP assisted 11 victims of torture to file
a civil case against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in California2. The case was withdrawn when he was
elected President in 2019 and acquired head of state immunity. That immunity no longer applies
now he has resigned from office. This is believed to be the first criminal complaint against him.
By the final days of the war in May 2009, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was chairing the National Security
Council Meeting and fielding requests from the US Amabssador to stop the shelling and send in
food, which he did not actually comply with. As the war reached its end, military commanders at
the frontline described receiving telephone calls from Gotabaya Rajapaksa asking them to hurry
and end the war. It is at this point that multiple witnesses describe seeing soldiers executing in
cold blood injured fighters who were unarmed and civilians trying to surrender.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brothers also approved plans for the political wing of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam to surrender carrying a white flag. Eyewitnesses said the current Chief of
Defence Staff, Shavendra Silva, was in charge and present at the surrender, personally shaking
hands with the men shortly before they were executed by the military. Sri Lanka’s former Army
commander has alleged Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave the orders to Silva to execute the Tamil
political leaders. The Paranagama Commission, a Sri Lankan domestic commission of inquiry,said
there should have been a judicial-led inquiry into the surrender but in 13 years it has not

Aside from testimony from survivors and military insiders, attached to the submission are horrific
trophy photographs taken by soldiers at the end of the war depicting the sexually mutilated
corpses of Tamil women, raising the reasonable inference that they were raped before being

Singaporean opposition politician, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, welcomed the call for Gotabaya
Rajapaksa to be arrested, investigated and charged in Singapore:
“I think it’s disgraceful and a deliberate affront to Singapore’s Tamils, Sri Lankans and the wider
community, many of whom have relatives who were killed or had to flee SL because of the war or
who lost property and livelihoods. My own family were affected by the war and one relative
witnessed her husband hacked to death in front of her. The international community must now
exert maximum pressure to see that the Rajapaksas are brought to justice and that Singapore
steps up to its international obligations. Gotabaya and his brother should be put on trial as the
war criminals and mass murderers they are, no different from Assad or Putin.”

1 In Section 3 (1) and (2) of the Geneva Conventions Act 1973 of The Statutes of the Republic of Singapore. The Statues of the Republic of Singapore, Geneva Conventions Act 1973, 2020 Revised Edition, available at:


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