Dr Beth Van Schaack, an esteemed human rights lawyer and academic that has written extensively on accountability and justice in Sri Lanka, has been nominated by US president Joe Biden for the post of Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice at the Department of State.
Van Schaack, who previously served as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice of the U.S. Department of State, is also an executive editor at Just Security and is the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School.
See more of her work on accountability in Sri Lanka below.
In March 2021, she chaired an event titled “Pursuing Accountability for Mass Atrocities: What Can the UN Human Rights Council Do organised jointly by People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) and the School of Public Policy, University College, London.
Read more on the event here: Pursuing Accountability for Mass Atrocities: What Can the UN Human Rights Council Do?
In February 2021, she wrote a piece on justice in Sri Lanka as the island came up for discussion at the UN Human Rights Council.
In February 2021, she also interviewed Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, who served from 2010 to 2013 as the first US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, and asked her about the US interest in promoting transitional justice in Sri Lanka.
In July 2020, she was one of 180 prominent individuals and 60 human rights organisations that signed a letter below supporting South African human rights lawyer, Yasmin Sooka, in the face of threats and vilification from the Sri Lankan government.
In October 2019, she wrote about the dismissal of a lawsuit against former Sri Lankan defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stating he “has consistently escaped accountability for his actions”.
“In his capacity as Defense Minister, it has been alleged that he oversaw brutal human rights violations and crimes against humanity against civilians, including journalists, during the country’s civil war,” she added.
In October 2019, as Rajapaksa prepared his presidential election bid, Van Schaack wrote that “there is significant evidence in the public record that Gota himself directed the bombing of civilian hospitals and the killing of civilians to pummel the LTTE into submission”.
In June 2019, spoke of gaps in US law which needed to be closed to perpetrators of international crimes that may visit the US, at an event at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
"This is a great case to activate our War Crimes Act as he (Rajapaksa) is a U.S. national and he falls within that jurisdiction," she said. "And would be a great case if we had a command responsibility or superior responsibility statute."
See the event below. Read her testimony here.
In April 2019, she wrote of how Rajapaksa attempts were being made to sue Rajapaksa at federal court in the Central District of California, noting that he was “served with process in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s, of all places”.
In 2017, The American Society of International Law released a symposium edition of the American Journal of International Law Unbound, which included a submission from Van Schaack on how the situation in Sri Lanka demonstrates “the way in which the prohibition on using, or benefiting from, human shields can be cynically deployed to shield attackers from responsibility for excessive civilian deaths”.
Read her contribution here: Human Shields: Complementary duties under IHL
Also see her compilation of the relevant legal provisions here: Human Shields in International Humanitarian Law: A Guide to the Legal Framework
In 2016, she authored a piece on a potential hybrid judicial mechanism for Sri Lanka, stating “the inclusion of international personnel serves to restore legitimacy and popular faith in domestic institutions that may have suffered a loss of confidence in the eyes of victim groups and perpetrators”.
In December 2015, she published a full paper on the topic.
Read the paper here.
In October 2015, she spoke at an event hosted by the Stanford University Center for Human Rights and International Justice.
See the full video of the event below.
In July 2014, she wrote a piece discussing whether Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be entitled to any form immunity under international or domestic law.
In May 2014, she wrote that “the war crimes committed during the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war, as well as post-war abuses, have already been well documented” and that “pursuing charges would go far toward limiting Rajapaksa’s freedom of movement, at least to countries that have an extradition treaty with the United States”.
Read more here: United States War Crimes Statute & Sri Lanka
In March 2014, she authored a piece on the UN Human Rights Council resolution which called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “investigate, assess, and monitor” the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.