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Wickrematunge’s US lawsuit against Gotabaya dismissed

A lawsuit brought against Sri Lanka’s former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been dismissed by a US court this week, stating that the defendant is entitled to “foreign official immunity”.

The lawsuit was filed by Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the daughter of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, seeking damages from Rajapaksa for instigating and authorizing the extrajudicial killing of her father.

However, since the Court found that these acts were committed in his official capacity as Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defence, the case against him was dismissed.

The Centre for Justice & Accountability added that “the Court made no finding on the actual merits of the allegations against Rajapaksa, which include his alleged responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and for the Sri Lankan government’s campaign of violence against journalists during Sri Lanka’s civil war”.

Stating that she would challenge the decision Ahimsa Wickrematunge said,

“This is a disappointing setback in my family’s long fight for justice on behalf of my father, as well as for the movement to end impunity for the killing of journalists in Sri Lanka.  My father was a civilian driving to his office when he was brutally assassinated on the street.  Killing a journalist because of their reporting should never be seen as an official state act and my lawyers and I will continue to fight to ensure perpetrators of these abuses do not escape justice.”

“An end to impunity is precisely what the Torture Victim Protection Act was designed to provide in cases like this.  There is no immunity when government officials act outside their authority to torture and murder journalists.  Defendant Rajapaksa, a U.S. citizen, can and must be held accountable in U.S. courts,” said Natalie L. Reid of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, counsel to Ahimsa.

See more from CJA here and the full court decision here.

Gotabaya faces another civil lawsuit filed by the International Truth and Justice Project and the American law firm Hausfield on behalf of Tamil torture survivor Roy Samathanam. Samathanam was physically and psychologically tortured after being detained in Colombo in September 2007 by the Terrorism Investigation Department of the police (TID). Samathanam was only released in August 2010 after signing a false confession and accepting a plea deal. He won a case against the Sri Lankan government at the UN Committee Against Torture but the Sri Lankan government did not comply with the order for compensation.