Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa

27.04.2016 ( Last modified: 08.07.2019 )
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Facts

Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa also known as Mahinda Rajapaksa was born on 18 November 1945 in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. His family was very active in politics and his father and uncle were well-known politicians. Rajapaksa went to college in Colombo but when his father died in 1967 Rajapaksa replaced him as the candidate for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and he was elected to the Parliament in 1970 as the youngest member in its history. During the years that followed, Rajapaksa went to law school in Colombo and became an attorney in 1977.

In 1989, after several years when he did not serve as a member of the Parliament, Rajapaksa was re-elected to represent the Hambantota District. In 1994, after the SLFP won the election Rajapaksa was appointed as Minister of Labour and subsequently Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. In 2001 the SLFP lost the election to the United National Party (UNP) and in 2002 Rajapaksa became the Leader of the Opposition. On 17 November 2005, Rajapaksa won the presidential election with 50.3% of the votes.

Rajapaksa and his government are accused of committing war crimes during the end of the 25-year civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government, a conflict which officially ended in 2009 when the national army defeated the LTTE.

Examples of the alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the national army include deliberate attacks against clearly marked civilian objects such as hospitals and camps, and naval attacks on displaced civilians in a neutralized no-fire zone.

Legal Procedure

In the United States, a trial against Woewiyu was initiated by relatives of students who were killed in Trincomalee as well as by relatives of humanitarian workers of a French organisation who were killed near Trincomalee in August 2006. Also participating in the proceedings were relatives of a family killed when the military crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

The plaintiffs claim that all those persons were deliberately killed by the government security forces under Rajapaksa’s control. The families sued Rajapaksa under the Torture Victim Protection Act passed by Congress in 1992 which states that “any individual” who uses his or her authority to carry out extrajudicial killing is liable for wrongful death and can be ordered to pay damages to the survivors. The families argued that a head of state could not be immune from suits brought under this act because it refers to “any individual.”

On 1 Mars 2012 District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly announced that she had to dismiss the case against President Rajapaksa because, as the government restated, he was immune from litigation as a foreign head of state. In her decision she also stated that this dismissal was in “no way a reflection of the merits of plaintiffs’ claims or defendant’s defences”. Bruce Fein, an attorney of the three plaintiffs who filed the war crimes-related charges against Rajapakse, said on 3 April 2012 that he has filed an appeal against the ruling by the District Court of Columbia, as instructed by his clients.

In Australia, in October 2011 a national of Sri Lanka of Tamil origin filed charges of war crimes against Rajapaksa in a court in Melbourne. The then Prime Minister Julia Gilliard said that the case filed against Rajapaksa cannot proceed without the federal government’s consent because of the immunity of all heads of states.