Early Tuesday morning, news broke that Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil had fled the country. Sri Lanka’s government later announced that his departure was planned, and it was simply the end of his ambassadorial term, but the timing raised eyebrows. The previous day, human rights groups had filed a criminal complaint accusing Ambassador Jagath Jayasuriya of command responsibility for war crimes.
Jayasuriya, who is also Sri Lanka’s ambassador to five other Latin American countries, is a former army general. From 2007 to 2009, he oversaw the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The United Nations estimates that more than 40,000 Tamil civilians died in the final months of the conflict. Human rights groups have documented indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets, custodial torture, enforced disappearances and rape, all perpetrated by forces under Jayasuriya’s command.
Despite sustained pressure from victims, human rights groups and Western governments, Sri Lanka has refused to prosecute or punish any of these violations. When the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa was unexpectedly voted out of power in 2015, the international community welcomed assurances from the new government that it would pursue accountability for wartime abuses. Although Sri Lanka promised to establish offices of missing people and reparations, a truth commission and a prosecutorial mechanism, none of these institutions has materialized. Despite the change in government, there has been no vetting of either civilian or military officials suspected of war crimes. Eight years after the war’s end, justice remains elusive.