News / Asia

US Law Student Accuses Sri Lankan Leaders of War Crimes

Rajeev Sreetharan
Rajeev Sreetharan
Laurel Bowman

As wars break out and end, and refugees flee across international borders, victims often find themselves living alongside their alleged tormentors in foreign and frequently Western nations.  Those active and educated in the victim diaspora are looking to legal systems in their new countries to redress alleged war crimes.  In the U.S. state of Maryland, a first-year law student of Tamil heritage accuses the brother of Sri Lanka's president and a former army general of war crimes against minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. 

It’s an average day in contracts class at the University of Baltimore School of Law in Maryland.

The professor poses hypothetical questions as students check e-mail.  But Rajeev Sreetharan is not distracted.  He’s on a mission to bring what he calls justice to the Tamils of Sri Lanka through the legal systems of the West.

"When you look at the history of transitional justice from Nuremberg to Darfur, it’s only a select number of people who have gotten justice and who have been given the opportunity for their suffering to be written in history," said Rajeev Sreetharan.

In 2009, Sreetharan, and colleagues from the international diaspora group Tamils Against Genocide, compiled a document accusing former Sri Lankan Army General Sarath Fonseka and current Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of genocide against minority Tamils during that country's long-running civil war.  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The United Nations estimates 7,000 civilians died during the final phase of Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009.  Both the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil rebels have been accused of abuses.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington refused to comment on Streetharan's accusations, but President Rajapaksa told Sri Lanka's Daily News newspaper last month:

"...the so-called diaspora seeks to tarnish my image, and bring me and those who led the humanitarian operation to defeat LTTE terror before international tribunals."

Mr. Rajapaksa invited Tamil expatriates to return to Sri Lanka to witness the actual situation there.

Washington attorney Bruce Fein asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate Streetharan's accusations, but he has not heard back about any investigation.

"It was a compilation of over 1,000 pages going back for decades of disappearances, starvations, bombings, assassinations of Tamils," said Fein. "These were Tamils that were not on the battlefield and were documented from a variety of sources."

Fein says Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is a U.S. citizen and Fonseka, jailed following a failed election challenge to the president, has a U.S. green card.  He says this makes them vulnerable to U.S. law.

"The United States is a signatory to the Genocide Convention of 1948 and there is a genocide law that prohibits any U.S. citizen from complicity in genocide wherever it is committed," he said.

Fein says he doubts the current Sri Lankan government will extradite the president’s brother or the jailed army general, but he says governments do change.

Back on campus, Sreetharan finishes class and heads to his apartment to get to work.  He acknowledges that the various cases he is working on are long-shots, but he says he'll keep at it.

He describes how today’s instant communication makes it all possible.

"The spread of media, Internet, Facebook, all these things you can basically empower the victim community to engage with the court directly," he said.
Sreetharan left an investment banking career on Wall Street to pursue justice issues.

He’s in a hurry.  He has muscular dystrophy and over time he will lose strength and mobility.  His life, he says, could be short.

"When the doctor starts telling you that you are going to get weaker and weaker then you want to make every day count," said Sreetharan.

Tamil rebels fought the Sri Lankan government for 25 years. They are accused of many atrocities themselves, but bringing them to justice, says Sreetharan, is someone else’s fight.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

update President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs