The Gov’t of Sri Lanka Responds to my NYT Op-Ed on U.S. War Crimes Probe of ex-Defense Secretary

The government of Sri Lanka’s Justice Deputy Minister has responded to an Op-Ed that I published in the New York Times in which I described the reasons that the United States can and should pursue a criminal investigation of U.S. citizen and ex-Defense Secretary of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

I have posted below the news story which includes the statements by the Justice Deputy Minister. I will soon post my reaction here on Just Security.

By way of background: My piece in the New York Times focused on the 1996 War Crimes Act, which applies to U.S. citizens who have committed offenses such as the murder of journalists and other civilians. Earlier posts at Just Security have analyzed the prospect of a war crimes prosecution of Mr. Rajapaksa (here and here) and his lack of immunity, which is even clearer now that he has left office. Importantly, Mr. Rajapaksa may also be liable under other federal laws if he committed tax evasion, obstruction of justice, or immigration fraud (see an earlier post for how each of those provisions might apply in his case).

The state-owned newspaper, Sri Lanka’s News Daily, provided the following statement by the Deputy Minister:

Justice Deputy Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe yesterday categorically stated that former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has full protection against being taken to a war crimes tribunal of another country as long as he is on Sri Lankan soil.

The Deputy Minister said this in response to an article posted on The New York Times by US lawyer Ryan Goodman titled “Helping Sri Lanka’s New Democracy” in which he had dwelt on what Washington can do to help Sri Lanka, claiming “As a citizen, Mr. Rajapaksa can be held liable under the War Crimes Act of 1996, which puts war crimes anywhere in the world under the jurisdiction of the United States courts if the perpetrator, or the victim, is a United States citizen.

“Put another way, the United States has a perfect justification to go after Mr. Rajapaksa individually,” Goodman had pointed out in his post.

Senasinghe said: “It is true according to the said U.S. war crimes statute enacted in 1996, that nationality requirement is easily satisfied in terms of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s U.S.citizenship for them to prosecute him.”

“But not within Sri Lanka’s jurisdiction,” he explained.

“No other country can do what it likes in our jurisdiction. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is safe as long as he stays within the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka,” explained Deputy Minister Senasinghe Asked what the government’s position was in regard to probing allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka in view of the UN inquiry which is already underway in this respect, Senasinghe said:” our position is very clear. We will conduct a domestic probe with the assistance of the UN. ”

“There is no need to get excited .Let the process takes place on the availability of evidence, if there are any such violations,” he added.

 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.