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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More