Sri Lanka is sinking deeply inside a torrent of allegations of war crimes against three senior officials, including Sri Lanka’s President, ten days before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is to take place in Perth, prompting Premier Julia Gillard to confirm that Australian Federal Police (AFP) is conducting investigations on Sri Lanka officials over allegations of serious war-crimes, and forcing shadow foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop to demand Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd to reveal whether the government knew about the allegations against Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe before it accepted him as Sri Lanka’s high commissioner.
Mr Samarasinghe. AFP also confirmed that they’d received a submission compiled by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a legal rights lobby group composed of respected legal figures.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is facing summons in a US court for war-crimes, and SriLanka’s UN representative Palitha Kohona who is also facing possible investigations by the International Criminal Court over war crime allegations, are the other two officials under investigation, ABC TV reported.
The war-crime allegations gained further credibility after the emergence of an eye-witness, Meena Krishnamoorthy, who spent several years in the war-zone before escaping the final stages of the war to reach Australia safely. Ms Krishnamoorthy told ICJ that she has witnessed massacres by Sri Lanka soldiers.
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Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a news conference said: “These allegations are come to light since the Sri Lankan High Commissioner has come to Australia. These allegations are now being looked at by the Australian Federal Police.”
Mr Samarasinghe refuted the allegations saying that they are baseless and unsubstantiated, adding, he was commended for saving civilians from the clutches of terrorism. He also said that the military has never shelled any hospital.
While there is no evidence that Samarasinghe was directly involved in shelling civilians, or that he gave direct orders, the accusation turns on the question of accountability. Legal experts said that the doctrine of Command Responsibility attaches to Mr Samarasinghe, and with an additional element if Samarasinghe knew or should have known of his troops shelling unarmed civilians, are suffiicient to hold him culpable.
Professor of International Law at Australian National University, Don Rothwell told ABC, “[u]ltimately what’s the real obligation, what’s the incentive? Well the incentive is that Australia is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. That statute does create certain obligations for Australia to conduct these types of investigations and indeed I think there’s a very strong argument that Australia both legally and morally needs to do so.”
Professor Rothwell added that under the Commonwealth Crimes Act and related legislation giving effect to the Geneva conventions allow the AFP to conduct investigations into the commission of war crimes that occurred overseas including crimes against humanity by any person including non Australian citizens.