Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Major General Shavendra Silva, has been asked to appear before a New York District Court to answer charges related to alleged war crimes and the war veteran said he was willing to challenge any charges made against him or troops under his command in any court anywhere in the world.
The summons was served at Ambassador Major General Silva’s private apartment when he was away. It was reportedly accepted by an inmate at the apartment. According to the summons, the war veteran turned diplomat is expected to respond to the District Court within 21 days.
Last evening he told the Sunday Times by telephone, “I am willing to face whatever allegations are made against me or those who served under my command in any court anywhere in the world. Anyone can bring allegations and I am willing to contest all those allegations”.
He was in direct consultation with President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is in New York to attend the 66th UN General Assembly sessions.
Described as a “test case,” the litigation has been initiated by the American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic in the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs in the civil action are Vathsala Devi, widow of Thurairajasingham (also known as ‘Colonel’ Ramesh of the LTTE) and Seetharam Sivam, whose father Siththar Sivam had died allegedly due to Army shelling of the Puthukudiyiruppu area in the final days of the war against the LTTE. Major General Silva led the Army’s 58 Division that militarily defeated the Tiger guerrillas in 2009.
Sri Lankan diplomats in New York said the timing of the action was clearly to embarrass President Rajapaksa against whom no action could be filed because he enjoyed ‘sovereign immunity’. The summons was served on Ambassador Major General Silva shortly after President Rajapaksa addressed the UNGA on Friday.
Ambassador Major General Silva enjoys immunity from arrest and detention and criminal jurisdiction, but whether the immunity extends to civil actions was unclear. Ali Beydoun, a human rights attorney appearing for the plaintiffs, has argued that a diplomat was immune only while he is acting in his or her official capacity. Thus, he had opined that delivery of summons to the diplomat’s work place would be held to be invalid. Hence, the move to serve summons at Maj.Gen. Silva’s private apartment. In terms of US law, acceptance by an inmate of the apartment is legal proof that the summons has been served.
Sri Lankan diplomats in New York also said that they were considering raising the issue with the office of the UN Secretary General since it concerns a diplomat posted to the world body. The arrangements for the delivery of the summons had been carefully orchestrated to enable a camera crew from Al Jazeera satellite television network to film the handing over.
In Colombo, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said this would give the government a “good opportunity” to tell an American court of the atrocities committed by the LTTE. He said that one of the plaintiffs was also an LTTE fighting cadre and the widow of Ramesh who took over from Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna as the head of the LTTE’s Eastern wing.
He said that Ramesh was a “ruthless terrorist” involved in the mass murder of hundreds of policemen who had surrendered around Batticaloa, innocent young Buddhist monks at Aranthalawa and Sinhalese and Muslim civilians in villages in the East, and that his widow was involved in these atrocities.