Demand for the arrest of Sri Lankan leader Rajapaksa in Singapore

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A human rights group said on Sunday it had filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s attorney general seeking the arrest of Sri Lanka’s former president for war crimes during his country’s civil war.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was ousted from his post due to his country’s economic collapse and fled to Singapore earlier this month. The defense minister was the rights group alleging Rajapaksa committed gross violations of the Geneva Conventions during the Sri Lankan Civil War during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ended in 2009.

The International Justice and Truth Project – an evidence-gathering organization run by a South African-based non-profit – said his lawyers had filed a complaint seeking Rajapaksa’s immediate arrest. The complaint alleges that Rajapaksa committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the civil war “and that these are crimes subject to domestic prosecution in Singapore under universal jurisdiction.”

Read more: What does the crisis in Sri Lanka mean to the world

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has left the country’s 22 million people with a shortage of necessities, including medicine, fuel and food. The months-long protests focused on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled the country for most of the past two decades.

“The economic meltdown has seen the collapse of government, but the crisis in Sri Lanka is really tied to structural impunity for serious international crimes going back three decades or more,” said Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the ITJP.


Sri Lankan military officers march to mark the third anniversary of the end of the civil war on May 19, 2012 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Buddhika Weerasinghe / Getty Images

“This complaint acknowledges that it is not only about corruption and economic mismanagement but also about accountability for mass atrocity crimes,” she added.

Sri Lanka’s civil war has killed 100,000 people, according to conservative estimates by the United Nations. The actual number is believed to be much higher. A report by a UN panel of experts said at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

The Tamil Tiger rebels fought for an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamils. The country’s ethnic Sinhalese majority has credited Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa for the war’s victory, cementing the family’s political dominance, although accounts of atrocities, authoritarian rule, and nepotism persist.

Efforts to investigate allegations of war crimes were largely suppressed under the Rajapaksas.

Read more: Sri Lanka has a new president. This will not stop the protests

After Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country earlier this month, lawmakers elected Ranil Wickremesinghe to serve out the remainder of his presidency. He declared a state of emergency with broad powers to work to ensure law and order, and one day after he was sworn in, hundreds of armed forces raided a protest camp outside the president’s office, attacking protesters with batons.

Rights groups urged the president to immediately order troops and police to halt the use of force and said Friday’s offer appeared to follow a pattern of Sri Lankan authorities responding forcefully to dissent.

Political unrest threatened Sri Lanka’s potential for economic recovery. Wickremesinghe recently said that rescue talks with the International Monetary Fund are coming to an end.

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