Genocide in Sri Lanka
by Bruce Fein
The barrage of media reporting of the grim conflict in Sri Lanka has captured popular imagination, but has overlooked the grisly Sinhalese Buddhist genocide of innocent Hindu or Christian Tamil civilians by a US dual citizen and US green card holder. The two should be investigated and prosecuted in the United States.
Acting on behalf of Tamils Against Genocide, I recently delivered to US Attorney General Eric H. Holder a three-volume, 1,000 page model 12-count genocide indictment against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka charging violations of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. Derived from affidavits, court documents, and contemporaneous media reporting, the indictment chronicles a grisly 61-year tale of Sinhalese Buddhists attempting to make Sri Lanka "Tamil free."
Rajapaksa and Fonseka assumed their current offices in December 2005. They exercise command responsibility over Sri Lanka's mono-ethnic Sinhalese security forces. On their watch, they have attempted to physically destroy Tamils in whole or in substantial part through more than 3,800 extrajudicial killings or disappearances; the infliction of serious bodily injury on tens of thousands; the creation of punishing conditions of life, including starvation, withholding medicines and hospital care, humanitarian aid embargoes, bombing and artillery shelling of schools, hospitals, churches, temples; and the displacements of more than 1.3 million civilians into camps, which were then bombed and shelled. This degree of mayhem inflicted on the Tamil civilian population because of ethnicity or religion ranks with the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo that occasioned genocide indictments against Serbs by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
During the past month, a virtual reenactment of the Bosnian Srebrenica genocide of more than 7,000 Muslims has unfolded. Sri Lanka's armed forces employed indiscriminate bombing and shelling to herd 350,000 Tamil civilians into a government-prescribed "safety zone," a euphemism for Tamil killing fields. There, more than 1,000 have been slaughtered and more than 2,500 have been injured by continued bombing and shelling.
As a preliminary to the horror, roads and medical aid were blocked, and humanitarian workers and all media were expelled. During a BBC radio interview on Feb. 2, Rajapaksa declared that outside the "safety zone" nothing should "exist." Accordingly, a hospital has been repeatedly bombed, killing scores of patients. Rajapaksa further proclaimed that in Sri Lanka, any person not involved in fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a terrorist.
The United States assailed and sanctioned Serbia for noncooperation in apprehending genocide defendants Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic. The United States should be no less scrupulous in prosecuting suspected genocide by its own citizens or permanent residents. Further, under Article 5 of the Genocide Convention of 1948, ratified by the United States Senate in 1986, the United States is obligated to provide "effective penalties" for genocide. That imposes an obligation on signatory parties to investigate and to prosecute credible charges - a benchmark that has been satisfied by TAG's 1,000-page model 12-count indictment of Rajapaksa and Fonseka.
The predictable defense of counter-terrorism will not wash. Not a single Tamil victim identified in the model indictment was involved in the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The lame excuse of defeating terrorism was advanced by Sudanese President Omar Bashir to a genocide arrest warrant over Darfur issued by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor retorted that although Bashir's pretense was counterterrorism, his intent was genocide.
The State Department lists Sri Lanka as an investigatory target in the Office of War Crimes. The New York-based Genocide Prevention Project last December labeled Sri Lanka as a country of "highest concern." President Barack Obama has made the case for military intervention in Sudan or elsewhere to stop genocide. All the more justification for the United States to open an investigation of the voluminous and credible 12 counts of genocide against a United States citizen and permanent resident alien assembled by Tamils Against Genocide.
A genocide indictment would probably deter Rajapaksa and Fonseka from their ongoing atrocities against Tamil civilians. There is no time to tarry. [courtesy: Boston Globe]
Bruce Fein is counsel for Tamils Against Genocide and former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.