Human rights groups in South America have filed war crimes lawsuits against a former Sri Lankan general who is now his country’s ambassador to Brazil.
The lawsuits against Jagath Jayasuriya are based on his role as a commander in the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. He was accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.
Jayasuriya has diplomatic immunity in Brazil and five other countries where he is ambassador: Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Suriname. The groups pursuing the suits hope they will compel regional governments to open investigations into Jayasuriya, remove his immunity and expel him.
“This is one genocide that has been forgotten, but this will force democratic countries to do something,” Carlos Castresana Fernandez, the lawyer coordinating the effort, told the Associated Press. “This is just the beginning of the fight.”
Fernandez said the lawsuits were filed on Monday in Brazil and Colombia. Petitions also will be filed in Argentina, Chile and Peru in the coming days, he said, adding that authorities in Suriname had refused to accept the suit.
Jayasuriya’s whereabouts were not immediately known. Fernandez said Brazilian justice officials told him Jayasuriya had left Brazil on Sunday, but that couldn’t be independently confirmed.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Brazil’s capital didn’t reply to calls and emails from the AP seeking comment Monday evening.
The civil war in Sri Lanka, an island off the southern tip of India, raged intermittently between 1983 and 2009. The U.N. estimates between 40,000 and 70,000 people died in the final phase alone. In total, the 26-year war is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people.
According to the suits, Jayasuriya was commander of the Vanni Security Force from 2007 to 2009, one of the bloodiest periods in Sri Lanka’s civil war. He oversaw an offensive from Joseph Camp, also known as Vanni, which the papers claim was a notorious torture site.
The International Truth and Justice Project, which spearheaded the criminal suits, said it interviewed 14 survivors of torture or sexual violence at the camp. The victims described hearing the howls of detainees at night, which the suits contend Jayasuriya would have been able to hear.
“There is no way General Jagath Jayasuriya can claim not to have known that torture routinely occurred in his camp; there were purpose built underground torture chambers, equipped with manacles, chains and pulleys for hoisting victims upside down,” Yasmin Sooka, the ITJP’s executive director, said in March.
“If the detainees could hear each other screaming at night from adjacent buildings, so could he.”
A few years after the war ended, Jayasuriya retired from the military and was appointed ambassador to Brazil in 2015.
Human rights groups have long been after Jayasuriya, but the Sri Lankan government has refused to try him or others allegedly involved in war abuses.