Ahimsa Wickrematunge, daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, and her legal team filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, contesting the United States District Court’s decision to grant former Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa immunity for suit related to the assassination of her father.
The United States District Court for the Central District of California held that it lacks the jurisdiction to consider Wickrematunge’s claims because, in the court’s view, Rajapaksa is entitled to common law foreign official immunity for the acts that are alleged—acts of torture, extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity.
Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s legal team says the court erroneously awarded Rajapaksa immunity even though Sri Lanka did not request it, and incorrectly found that Rajapaksa’s actions were committed within his official capacity as Sri Lanka’s secretary of defense, despite the fact that Lasantha’s assassination was neither authorized nor ratified by the Sri Lankan government.
The District Court made no finding on the actual merits of the allegations against Rajapaksa, which include his alleged responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and for the Sri Lankan government’s campaign of violence against journalists during Sri Lanka’s civil war.
“In his final letter, my father reminded us that he had a ‘calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.’ He shared that he hoped that his ‘assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts.’ I continue my fight in the courts in honor of my father’s call of conscience to ensure that Rajapaksa faces accountability for his role in the assassination of my father and to prevent any government official from evading justice by arguing that ordering assassinations of journalists could ever be part of their official duties,” says Ahimsa Wickrematunge.
“An end to impunity is precisely what the Torture Victim Protection Act was designed to provide in cases like this. There is no immunity when government officials act outside their authority to torture and murder journalists. Defendant Rajapaksa, a U.S. citizen, can and must be held accountable in U.S. courts,” says Natalie L. Reid of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, counsel to Ahimsa.