Human Rights organisations have urged the Sri Lankan government to revoke the new position of Jagath Dias.
The new Sri Lankan government recently appointed Major General Jagath Dias as Army Chief of Staff, one of the most important posts of the army. From late 2009 to 2011 Dias served as Deputy Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Germany, Switzerland and the Vatican. He was recalled from his post in the wake of allegations that he was responsible for war crimes committed in the final stages of the civil war. “The promotion of a suspected war criminal to the post of the Army Chief of Staff is a serious setback for the Sri Lankan process of reconciliation announced by President Maithripala Sirisena on taking office in January”, say the organizations European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) and TRIAL (Track Impunity Always).
ECCHR documented allegations against Dias in a comprehensive dossier in 2011. As commander of the 57th division General Dias is said to have been responsible for attacks on civilians in protected zones as well as for the bombing of hospitals, places of worship and humanitarian facilities.
Following a criminal complaint by Swiss organizations STP and TRIAL the Swiss Office of the Attorney General announced in September 2011 that it would open a criminal investigations against Dias for war crimes should he ever return to Switzerland, stating that some “episodes of the conflict highlight his personal engagement in the military operations and in the abuses committed”. Over the past years Australia, the USA and other states have denied entry to Dias and blocked his participation in military exercises on account of his role in the civil war.
The UN estimates that over 40,000 civilians were killed in the last months of the civil war, which ended in May 2009 – most of the victims belonged to the Tamil minority. The civil war came to an end with the total destruction of the Tamil Tigers rebel movement which had been fighting for an independent Tamil state.
To date no one has been held accountable for the civilian deaths and the suspected crimes against international law. On taking office in January, President Sirisena announced plans to address the grave war crimes, stating that with the help of the international community he wished to establish an independent national judicial mechanism. Just three months later, in April 2015, he reneged on his promise. He made it clear that the mechanism would not have any power to prosecute but instead be of truth-seeking nature only. For this, he said, Sri Lanka would not need any international help.
ECCHR, TRIAL and STP call on the Sri Lankan government to revoke the new position of Dias, to start a process towards an independent investigation, in line with international legal standards, into alleged crimes under international law in relation to all involved parties and to bring the suspected perpetrators to trial.