The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in partnership with US law firm Hausfeld have filed a civil damages case in California against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on behalf of a Tamil torture survivor.
Roy Samathanam, a survivor of torture during war seasons, made a complaint in the Central District of California against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is a dual US Sri Lankan citizen. Samathanam, who is a Canadian national and was arrested on false charges in Colombo in September, 2007 during his visit to Sri Lanka to marry his wife, was reported directly to Mr. Rajapaksa by the Terrorism Investigation Division of the Police at the time, upon which a period of three years of detainment and repeated refusal to access legal support were set. Mr. Samathanam was held in captivity, physically and emotionally tortured, threatened to rape and kill his wife and child and made him watch three prisoners being electrocuted, under direct commands of Mr. Rajapaksa. He was forced to sign a false confession before being released in August, 2010 on a pea deal.
The case was brought under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which gives torture victims legal redress in US courts. Notice was formally served on Mr. Rajapaksa on Sunday (April 7) night at a Trader Joe’s parking lot in Pasadena. This was after the ITJP and Hausfeld hired private investigators to track down the whereabouts of Mr. Rajapaksa, who is currently on holiday in California. Notice was also served at the same time in a separate case filed by another organisation on behalf of assassinated journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge.
This is reportedly the first case filed in a court outside Sri Lanka against Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was the Secretary of Defence of the former Mahinda Rajapaksa government, from 2005 to 2015.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also a presidential hopeful for polls due before year end.
Since Mr. Samathanam’s release, he has been an outspoken advocate for Human Rights. In 2011, he testified about his ordeal in the Parliament of Canada. In 2016, Mr. Samathanam won a UN Human Rights Committee case, but Sri Lanka has failed to abide by the compensation ruling.
“While I was in prison I learned what inhumanity looks like.. So far, there has been no accountability, so I am happy to take this first step to get justice. This action will give torture victims in Sri Lanka hope for the future.” Samathanam said.
Scott Gilmore, an international human rights lawyer based in Washington, DC, wrote, “Mr. Samathanam was one of countless civilians detained and tortured in Sri Lanka because of their ethnic Tamil identity. Under international law, Mr. Rajapaksa bears command responsibility for the abuses carried by his security forces.”
Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the ITJP, said, “Roy’s torture case is just one of many hundreds the ITJP has documented in Sri Lanka that are systematic and speak to incredible levels of impunity. This is believed to be the first instance of civil suits being filed against Gotabaya Rajapaksa abroad. We hope that others will come forward and contact us. They can join a collective action for redress.”
“We commend Roy for his bravery in being among the first to step forward and we are happy that our expertise and resources can benefit the struggle for justice in Sri Lanka,” said Michael Hausfeld, Chairman Hausfeld, “We hope more victims will come forward”.
The ITJP is an NGO run by the South African transitional justice expert Yasmin Sooka, and has the largest archive of testimony and other information pertaining to the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka and the post-war period. In August 2017, the ITJP filed four universal jurisdiction cases in Chile, Brazil, Peru and Colombia against a Sri Lankan retired General who was a diplomat there for his alleged role in the war and torture.
Hausfeld, the US partnership firm, is a leading global law firm with offices in Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Düsseldorf, London, Stockholm, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. that has a broad range of complex litigation expertise, particularly in antitrust/competition, financial services, sports and entertainment, environmental, mass torts, consumer protection, and human rights matters, often with an international dimension. Hausfeld is currently the only claimants’ firm to be ranked by the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners as a top tier firm in private enforcement of antitrust/competition law in both the United States and Europe.