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US should push prosecution of individuals in Sri Lanka - Congressional Caucus hears

The US has the opportunity to prosecute Sri Lankan war criminals and place sanctions on Sri Lanka, the Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka heard at a discussion last week.

The caucus held its second such event on Capitol Hill last Wednesday.

Speaking from the discussion panel, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security and Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, Ryan Goodman, urged the US to take concrete actions in working towards prosecutions of individuals and placing sanctions on Sri Lanka.

Professor Goodman said the U.S. should further promote accountability efforts at the UN – not just by supporting the investigation and sharing information it has with the investigators, but also by supporting the investigation in naming specific individuals responsible for crimes in Sri Lanka.  Professor Goodman urged the U.S. to institute travel restrictions against key Sri Lankan officials, also calling for greater sanctions against Sri Lanka, suggesting that Congress invite the UN Panel to brief Congress after it finalises it report in April 2015.

The professor noted that Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity breeds and begets further impunity and it is because there has been no accountability for past crimes, there is impunity for ongoing crimes today.

He went on to stress that there was a “specific and exceptional opportunity” for the United States to prosecute Sri Lanka’s defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, since he is a U.S. citizen, as he is liable under the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996.

Professor Goodman also stated that immunity would not attach to Gotabaya, especially because he is a U.S. citizen. He said one cannot argue that this is the U.S. imposing its laws on other countries, because it was actually the opposite here, as  “the U.S. has an interest in having its laws apply to its citizens, and other countries should not interfere with that.”

The professor said it was symbolically important for the U.S. to indict Gotabaya, as this would make the Sri Lankan defence secretary more marginalised, and therefore a lesser impediment to accountability, adding that a domestic investigation in Sri Lanka is unrealistic.

Goodman further said that although the U.S. has played a key role in advancing accountability, it has not taken the next important step of prosecuting Gotabaya, posing the question, “what can Assad say if the US lets its own citizens be involved in the killings of tens of thousands of civilians?”

A second panellist,  Dr. M. B. Nirmal, Founder & Chairman of Exnora International, discussed the ethnocratic nature of the Sri Lankan state.

“They intend for Sri Lanka to be solely a Sinhala Buddhist country,” said Dr. Nirmal whilst providing statistics on the number of massacres of Christians in Sri Lanka, stating that 378 churches have been demolished, and more than 3000 Christian statutes and altars have been destroyed.  He added that the same types of atrocities are committed against Hindus and Muslims.

The Caucus chairs, Congressman B Johnson and Congressman D Davis, both expressed concern over the ongoing impunity and ethnic discrimination in Sri Lanka. 

Congressman Davis spoke about how unfortunate it was to see some groups denying other groups the basic freedoms that they enjoy in Sri Lanka.  He urged the Sri Lankan government to end anti-Muslim riots and attacks, and to put in place urgent, protective measures to ensure the personal security of minorities in Sri Lanka.  Congressman Davis said that groups of certain religions or ethnicities should not be targeted by government factions as “terrorist,” just to circumvent the violence occurring in Sri Lanka.

Congressman Johnson further noted that Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country, and that while Article 10 of the Constitution grants freedom of thought, Article 9 of the Constitution grants the “foremost place” to Buddhism and places a duty on the Sri Lankan government to protect Buddhism.

He outlined that this caucus was created to educate others about the need to protect the human rights of all ethnicities who have been excluded from society, political life and the economy in Sri Lanka, adding that holding this event was especially timely given the recent escalation of violence in Sri Lanka, referring to last month’s attacks against Muslims.

What More Congress (and the Administration) Can Do to Promote Accountability in Sri Lanka - Ryan Goodman for Just Security (15 July 2014)

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