Daughter of slain Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee against the Government of Sri Lanka, seeking accountability for the regime’s role in the extra judicial killing of the well-known journalist.
The complaint was filed on the 12th anniversary of Wickrematunge’s assassination by his 28 year old daughter Ahimsa, through her lawyers at the San Francisco based Centre for Justice and Accountability.
“Twelve years ago today, Mr. Wickrematunge was brazenly killed by a group of military assassins on the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital, as part of a systematic attack on the free press by government and pro-government groups. Over the past year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government has overseen a concerted resurgence in the persecution of journalists, the CJA said in a media release about the filing.
The complaint alleges that the Government of Sri Lanka perpetrated grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the rights to life, freedom from torture, and freedom of expression, by orchestrating Mr. Wickrematunge’s assassination and failing to adequately investigate it or prosecute those responsible for his death. It requests that the Human Rights Committee ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka conducts an independent, exhaustive, and effective investigation into the attack against Mr. Wickrematunge; prosecutes those responsible at all levels of the Government; apologizes to and compensates the Wickrematunge family for the violations they have suffered; and guarantees an end to these human rights violations.
Wickrematunge was killed while driving to work in January 2009, by a squad of bikers linked to the Sri Lankan Army.
In April 2017 Chief Investigator of the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder at the CID, IP Nishantha Silva told the Mount Lavinia Magistrate that the killing was carried out by a military intelligence death squad operating under the then defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Investigations by the CID revealed that the death brigade was set up specifically to target and silence journalists. 10 days after Wickrematunge’s murder on January 8, 2009, Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered the transfer of Major Prabath Bulathwatte to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Thailand. Bulathwatte led the infamous Tripoli Platoon, an unit especially created for the surveillance of journalists, and has been implicated in the abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyahr in 2008 and the assault on journalist Upali Tennakoon in 2009. Bulathwatte was arrested and is currently on bail as a suspect in these crimes.
Prabath Bulathwatte was promoted to Lt. Colonel by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in February 2020. IP Nishantha Silva fled the country soon after President Rajapaksa took office in November 2019 in fear for his life. SSP Shani Abeysekera, who supervised Silva’s investigations as CID Director has been in police custody on trumped up charges since August 2020.
“Today is the anniversary of my father’s assassination and I live every day with the pain of his loss,” said Ms. Wickrematunge. “The Sri Lankan government killed my father for his independent reporting. Twelve years later, I see those responsible for his death in the highest positions of power within the Sri Lankan government, carrying out the same crimes they committed over a decade ago,” said Ahimsa Wickrematunge.
CJA Senior Staff Attorney Nushin Sarkarati said: “Amid ongoing impunity for the crimes it perpetrated against Lasantha twelve years ago, the Sri Lankan government is once again employing the same violent tactics to target critics and the free press. The UN must use this critical opportunity to condemn Sri Lanka’s human rights violations and advance accountability efforts, to ensure impunity can no longer reign.”
The Human Rights Committee, distinct from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by State parties.
See Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s full complaint to the Human Right Committee of the United Nations here