By Stewart Bell –
One of Sri Lanka’s top naval officers has fled to Canada but federal officials are refusing to accept his refugee claim on the grounds he was complicit in war crimes during the troubled island’s long civil war against Tamil rebels.
Nadarajah Kuruparan was Commodore of the Sri Lanka Navy, third in rank behind the Admiral, when he retired in June 2009 — just weeks after his forces helped defeat the separatist Tamil Tigers in a conflict that left untold civilians dead.
On Aug. 4, 2009, he arrived at the Canadian border with his wife and two children and made a refugee claim, a development that has only now emerged with the release of a court ruling on his case. He has apparently lived in Toronto since then.
One of only five ethnic Tamil officers in the navy, he said he feared the government, pro-government militias and rebels but the Immigration and Refugee Board ruled he was not a genuine refugee because he was complicit in crimes against humanity.
His appeal to the Federal Court of Canada was dismissed on June 13, and he and his family now face deportation to Sri Lanka. The court ruling was significant because it upheld the finding that the Sri Lankan military committed atrocities.
“The extensive sources of evidence and the reporting contained therein, including references to tens of thousands of disappearances and the institutionalization of torture, supports a finding that the navy and security forces’ acts were part of a widespread or systematic attack on Sri Lanka,” Justice John O’Keefe wrote in his 50-page decision.
Since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, evidence has emerged suggesting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels recruited young children and used civilians as human shields. Government forces, meanwhile, have been accused of shelling civilians and executing captives.
Western governments, the United Nations and human rights groups have been pushing for an independent investigation into the war crimes allegations. Sri Lanka has refused to co-operate with such a probe and defended its wartime actions.
David Poopalapillai, the Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman, said the court ruling gave credibility to the war crimes allegations.
“Now our judicial system, one of the finest in the world, is echoing this same thing. It means the Sri Lankan military apparatus have committed war crimes and it should be investigated,” he said.
While ethnic Tamil civilians and former rebels commonly seek refuge in countries like Canada, it is unusual for Sri Lankan military officials to do so. Mr. Poopalapillai said only a handful have turned up in the United Kingdom and United States, but none as high-ranking as Mr. Kuruparan.
According to the court ruling, the commodore joined the navy in 1981 but he said as a Tamil he faced challenges. He was approached repeatedly and asked to help the rebels, he said, and while he refused, the navy still suspected he was a sympathizer.
A month after he retired, he said his wife was abducted by the Karuna Group, a pro-government Tamil militia. He said the group demanded a large sum of money and threatened to kill the entire family if it didn’t get paid.
The Kuruparans travelled to the U.S. and asked for asylum at the Canadian border. But the IRB found that while he had never personally committed a war crime, Mr. Kuruparan “participated in facilitating the navy’s operations, which included the darker aspects of those operations.”
Although aware of the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan forces as early as 1985, he made no attempt to leave, even when travelling abroad, the IRB found. The board found he “had been complicit in the crimes against humanity because he had a long service with the navy, an organization that was known to regularly and systematically commit human rights abuses against the LTTE, the Tamil population and individuals suspected or perceived to be LTTE collaborators or sympathizers.”