Daughter of slain Sri Lankan journalist files UN complaint
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A daughter of a slain Sri Lankan journalist filed a complaint Friday with the United Nations Human Rights Committee over alleged government involvement in her father’s death 12 years ago.
The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability filed the complaint on behalf of Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the daughter of Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was allegedly killed by a military-linked hit squad while driving to work on Jan. 8, 2009.
Wickrematunge, editor of the now-defunct Sunday Leader newspaper, was a strong critic of current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was a powerful defense official at the time. Rajapaksa’s older brother, current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, was president at the time.
Wickrematunge’s assassination came to symbolize alleged government abuses and impunity during the country’s civil war. It featured prominently in an investigation conducted by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2015.
The complaint says Wickrematunge was killed a few days before he was to testify in a defamation case filed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa over an article implicating him in a corruption scandal involving the purchase of fighter planes. At the time Sri Lankan forces were fighting the final months of the decades-long civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels.
Both government forces and the defeated rebels have been accused of grave human rights abuses.
Foreign Ministry Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colambage said he had not seen the complaint, and given its sensitive nature was unable to comment without ascertaining the view of the political leadership.
On the day of his killing, Wickrematunge was followed by men on motorbikes, and when he stopped at a busy intersection they smashed his car window and punched a hole in his head with a sharp instrument.
The complaint says law enforcement agencies either failed to conduct a credible investigation or actively interfered with attempts to conduct one.
A new probe was initiated after Mahinda Rajapaksa lost a presidential election in 2015, but political infighting in the new government prevented a conclusion to the case.
There has been no progress in the investigation since Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president.
In 2019, Ahimsa Wickrematunge filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles court seeking damages from Gotabaya Rajapaksa for alleged involvement in the killing. The court dismissed the suit, saying it lacked jurisdiction because Rajapaksa was entitled to foreign official immunity. Gotabaya was a U.S. dual citizen at the time.
The complaint requests that the Human Rights Committee ensure that Sri Lanka conducts an independent investigation, prosecutes those responsible, and apologizes to and compensates the Wickrematunge family.
The Human Rights Committee is a group of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.