In a world where power often overrules justice, it can seem there are fewer consequences for mass murder than individual killings.
Sri Lanka is a case in point. Everyone knows that mass atrocities were committed there – they’ve watched the excellent Channel 4 Killing Fields documentaries even if they haven’t studied the United Nations reports. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils escaped from Sri Lankan security forces intent on killing, torturing and persecuting them.
Some of the victims settled in the UK over the decades, working in supermarkets, petrol stations, off licences, becoming doctors, engineers, poets and dancers. The UK Government should hold those responsible for the atrocities accountable by prosecuting or sanctioning them.
Now is the time to act; Sri Lanka’s former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is an alleged perpetrator of war crimes and crimes against humanity and now on the run. Known as the ‘terminator’, he was the powerful secretary of defence in 2009 when the UN estimated that between 40,000 and 70,000 civilians were killed in an area barely twice the size of Westminster.
Women and children cowering in shallow trenches and flimsy tents were relentlessly pummelled by sophisticated weaponry – multi-barrelled rocket launchers, supersonic jets, tanks, gunboats, cluster munitions and white phosphorous. Civilians were deliberately starved by Gotabayaand deprived of medicine in the war zone. When the end came, Tamil prisoners of war were executed, their corpses mutilated, subjected to enforced disappearance, raped and tortured in custody. The abductions and torture continue to this day, with Sri Lankan victims fleeing to the UK for sanctuary making up the largest cohort at rehabilitation charities like Freedom from Torture.
As a former military officer, in 2009 Gotabaya Rajapaksa allegedly issued direct orders to the brigadiers and generals at the frontline. He was not only fully aware of the atrocities, but watched them happen. The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has spent years researching the crimes and his alleged role in them.