Former Defence Secretary and presidential hopeful Gotabaya Rajapaksa is facing two civil suits in two separate cases pertaining to his term in office in Sri Lanka filed before the California District Court in the United States.
One is with regard to the assassination of former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the other a Tamil torture survivor named Roy Samathanam, a Canadian resident of California.
Samathanam’s case is backed by the International Truth and Justice Project (IJTP) headed by Jasmine Sooka. The other case, filed under the name of Wickrematunge’s daughter Ahimsa, is backed by the California-based Centre for Justice and Accountability.
Rajapaksa was served summons in both Civil cases on Sunday evening at the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, California.
Head of the London Centre for IJTP Frances Harrison told RepublicNext that their organisation had hired private detectives to track Rajapaksa’s whereabouts so that the summonses could be served on him. “He had to be on US soil at the time,” she said.
In Wickrematunge’s daughter’s suit she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the defendant “for instigating and authorising the extrajudicial killing” of her father. She notes that her father was exposing corruption in the country.
In the other case, alleged torture victim Samathanam made the complaint in the Central District of California against Rajapaksa, who is a dual US Sri Lankan citizen.
Samathanam, who is a Canadian national, was detained in Colombo in September 2007 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police, which reported directly to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a press release from IJTP said.
Samathanam was physically and psychologically tortured and forced to sign a false confession before being released in August 2010 on a plea deal and payment of a fine.
In 2016, Samathanam won a UN human rights committee case which IJTP says Sri Lanka has failed to abide by, particularly its ruling on compensation.
“Rajapaksa has to give up his US citizenship to be able to stand in presidential elections, so this was probably the last chance for a long time to begin to hold him accountable” said ITJP director Yasmin Sooka.
“We hope other survivors of torture will join the suit and make this a class action” she added.
Unlikely to affect renunciation of citizenship
It is not clear whether this case would in any way affect Rajapaksa’s current moves to renounce his US citizenship in order that he qualifies to contest the forthcoming Presidential elections in Sri Lanka.
The only mention of prosecutions in the US Immigration and Nationality Act is as follows:
“Persons who wish to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware of the fact that renunciation of U.S. citizenship may have no effect on their U.S. tax or military service obligations (contact the Internal Revenue Service or U.S. Selective Service for more information). In addition, the act of renouncing U.S. citizenship does not allow persons to avoid possible prosecution for crimes which they may have committed or may commit in the future which violate United States law, or escape the repayment of financial obligations, including child support payments, previously incurred in the United States or incurred as United States citizens abroad.”