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Accused war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa demands Israel to be held accountable for war crimes

Mahinda Rajapaksa with Palestinian Ambassador Dr. Zuhair M. H. Dar Zaid at a meeting last month

Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa and 158 other Sri Lankan parliamentarians signed a letter to the UN Secretary General calling for Israel to “be held accountable under international laws and the universal humanitarian regulations for the blatant war crime that they commit now and before alike.”

The letter comes as the war between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate with the death toll reportedly standing at 11,423 Palestinians and at least 1,200 Israelis.  

“The brutal Israeli onslaught on Gaza, the most recent being indiscriminate bombings in hospitals, amounts to a war crime under International Law and the Geneva convention, which should be condemned by all person who believe in justice,” the letter reads.

"Their intention to create a humanitarian crisis in asking them to move to the south, including warning other hospitals in Gaza which are treating the sick and injured, shows their callous disregard for humanity and justice," the letter goes on to add. 

Following a visit to the Palestinian embassy in Colombo last month, Rajapaksa claimed that “war is never a solution”.

“I have consistently supported the Palestinian cause as the Founder President of the Sri Lanka Society for Solidarity with Palestine," he added.

In January 2023, Canada sanctioned Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya for committing gross and systematic violations of human rights during the armed conflict. Rajapaksa and Gotabaya oversaw the military campaign that saw hospitals indiscriminately shelled and tens of thousands of Tamils killed in the final months of the armed conflict. During the final phase of the conflict, Sri Lanka instructed tens of thousands of Tamils to seek shelter in the 'No Fire Zones' (NFZs). However, the NFZs were subject to daily shelling by Sri Lanka's armed forces. 

The OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka found that the "NFZs created by the Government did not present safe havens for civilians. Almost immediately after their creation, the NFZs, including protected civilian objects, such as hospitals, came under sustained fire from the Sri Lankan security forces.

Further excerpts from the investigation highlight that the Sri Lankan military repeatedly targeted hospitals

“Within the LTTE-controlled areas, including the NFZs, there were a number of medical facilities. The hospitals were mostly staffed by Government employees, and marked with the Red Cross emblem – for example painted on the roof or clearly visible on flags. OISL has viewed one clip of UAV footage clearly showing the Red Cross emblem on the roof of PTK hospital. Satellite imagery also confirms that hospital buildings referred to in this section were clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem.

As the  [Sri Lankan Army] SLA advance progressed, medical facilities were often relocated, into schools and, towards the end of the conflict, tents and other makeshift structures.  The relocated sites of medical and other facilities were also hit during shelling despite being clearly marked by the emblem.  The transfer of seriously ill patients was sometimes carried out in the most precarious circumstances.   The attacks killed and injured patients receiving treatment.  As conditions worsened, the capacity of medical staff to treat patients became even more stretched, yet medical professionals were determined to fulfil their duties to provide treatment at great risk to themselves.  Medical personnel were also among those who were killed in the shelling.   Continued shelling, including on or near the roads leading up to the hospitals often prevented immediate access to civilians injured in other attacks in the area.

Although Rajapaksa oversaw these crimes, he has held close ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the State of Palestine in 2014 and was awarded the ‘Star of Palestine’, the highest honour award by the Palestinian state. In 2007 on Rajapaksa’s 62nd birthday, a road in Ramallah in his honour. 

Sri Lankan parliamentarians including MP Rishad Bathiudeen handing the letter to the United Nations office in Colombo

The letter was handed over to the United Nations Office in Colombo and a copy was also given to the Palestinian Ambassador. 

Read the full text of the letter here



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