The United States will endorse claims for diplomatic immunity by a Sri Lankan diplomat facing charges of alleged war crimes in a New York Court.A State Department document certifying immunity for Major General Shavendra de Silva, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), will be forwarded by his lawyers to the Southern District Court of New York.
This is in response to summons served on September 23. It was accepted by a staffer in his Manhattan apartment and required Maj. Gen. de Silva to respond within 21 days – that is on or before October 14. He had earlier declared that he would ignore the immunity and face the charges in courts to prove his innocence. The charges include alleged torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, forced disappearances and crimes against humanity in terms of international, Sri Lankan and US laws. However, lawyers will now represent him to tell court that he enjoys diplomatic immunity.
The Sunday Times learns that the State Department will confirm documentarily that Maj. Gen. de Silva is entitled to full diplomatic immunity in terms of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). This article states:
“A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of:
(a) A real action relating to private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving State, unless he holds it on behalf of the sending State for the purpose of the mission;
(b) An action relating to succession in which the diplomatic agent is involved as executor, administrator, heir or legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the sending State;
(c) An action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions.
“A diplomatic agent is not obliged to give evidence as a witness.”
A pro-Tiger guerrilla lobby initiated the court action through the American University Washington College of Law’s UNROW Human Rights Clinic. It was to be what was described as a “test case.”
The plaintiffs in the case are Vathsala Devi, wife of late Thurairajasingham alias Colonel Ramesh and Sitharam Sivaram on behalf of her dead father.