A rights group documenting alleged abuses in Sri Lanka has filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s attorney general, calling for the arrest of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his role in the South Asian country’s decades-long civil war.
The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) says Rajapaksa committed serious violations of the Geneva Conventions during the 2009 civil war when he was the country’s defense chief, according to a complaint seen by Reuters.
The South Africa-based ITJP argued that it had universal jurisdiction to claim the abuses were prosecutable in Singapore, where he fled after months of unrest over his country’s economic crisis.
Rajapaksa tendered his resignation in Singapore on July 13, the day after he fled. The anti-government protesters invaded the offices of the president and the prime minister and official residences.
“The requested criminal complaint (is based on) verifiable information about the crimes committed, as well as evidence that actually links the person in question who is now in Singapore,” said one of the lawyers, Alexandra Lilly Cater. who drafted the complaint told Reuters by phone from Berlin.
“Singapore really has a unique opportunity with this grievance, with its law and its policies, to speak truth to power.”
Rajapaksa could not be reached for comment through the Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore. He has previously strongly denied allegations that he was responsible for rights abuses during the war.
A spokesman for Singapore’s attorney general did not respond to a request for comment. The country’s foreign ministry said Rajapaksa entered the Southeast Asian city-state on a private visit and neither sought nor received asylum.
Shubhankar Dam, a professor at Britain’s University of Portsmouth Law School who has taught in Singapore, said that while courts could prosecute alleged war crimes, genocide and torture, he had repeatedly said such jurisdiction should only be exercised. as a last resort.
“Although neutrality is not formally enshrined in Singapore’s foreign policy, it has long cultivated a form of impartiality,” Dam said.
“Any decision to prosecute a former foreign head of state must be balanced against his foreign policy goals.”
Sri Lanka ended a 25-year civil war between ethnic Tamil separatist rebels and government forces in 2009. Human rights organizations accused both sides of abuses during the war.
The ITJP has supported two civil suits against Rajapaksa, one of which was served in a California parking lot in 2019. Rajapaksa was a US citizen at the time.
Both cases were dismissed after Rajapaksa was granted diplomatic immunity after becoming president later that year.