US: Tamil group files lawsuit against Lankan Prez
Last Updated: Saturday, January 29, 2011, 09:48
  
Washington: Members of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority have filed a lawsuit in the United States against the island's President, seeking USD 30 million in damages over alleged extrajudicial killings.

Activists from the Tamil Diaspora spearheaded legal action after President Mahinda Rajapakse quietly travelled to the United States, in a test of how much deference US authorities show to visiting heads of state.

Bruce Fein, a prominent Washington lawyer, said he filed the suit on behalf of three plaintiffs under a 1991 act that allows for action in the United States against foreign officials over torture and extrajudicial killings.

"President Rajapakse will not escape the long arm of justice secured by the Torture Victims Protection Act by hiding in Sri Lanka," Fein said after the filing in the US District Court in Washington on Friday.

Fein said he wanted a reply from Rajapakse and otherwise would seek a ruling without him.

The lawsuit seeks USD 30 million on behalf of three plaintiffs who said their relatives were killed in three incidents, including the Sri Lankan Army's offensive in 2009 against the final holdout of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

The United Nations has said at least 7,000 civilians perished in the final months of fighting, while international rights groups have put the toll at more than 30,000.

Sri Lanka has denied any civilian deaths and has rejected calls for an international probe. The Tigers were known for devastating suicide bombings during their decades-long campaign for a separate Tamil homeland.

The Sri Lankan embassy in Washington declined comment, but in Colombo, a spokesman for President Rajapakse dismissed the action as a publicity stunt.

"We have no time for mercenaries funded by the LTTE who want media attention," said Bandula Jayasekera, the director general of the president's media unit and Rajapakse's spokesman.

Rajapakse's office earlier dismissed as "frivolous and mischievous" a call by Amnesty International for the United States to investigate the head of state during his trip.

Rajapakse came to the United States last week on what Sri Lankan officials called a private visit. Tamil Diaspora groups, which strongly oppose Rajapakse, said they believed he was visiting family in Texas but has since left.

A US-based activist group calling itself Tamils Against Genocide, which is leading the suit, said in a statement it was "alarmed and disappointed" that US authorities allowed Rajapakse to visit without questions on his actions.

The group said it was testing the law in the wake of the June 2010 Samantar decision by the Supreme Court, which found that countries -- not individuals -- enjoyed diplomatic immunity from lawsuits in the United States.

In the case, the top court ruled unanimously that Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former prime minister of Somalia who now lives in the United States, may be sued over alleged torture during his rule.

Bureau Report


First Published: Saturday, January 29, 2011, 09:48


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