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Sri Lankan President Sued Under Torture Law

WASHINGTON (CN) - The president of Sri Lanka is accused of responsibility for the torture and extrajudicial killings of at least 26 people during that country's civil war. The federal complaint under the Torture Victims Protection Act holds President Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, who also commands Sri Lanka's armed forces, responsible for the killing of 17 humanitarian aid workers, five Tamil college graduates, and four civilians who had nothing to do with the war.

The three named plaintiffs, suing on their own behalf and for 26 dead people, say that Rajapaksa's presidency "has been earmarked by a pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including war crimes, rape, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment and punishment, prolonged detention without charges, and other flagrant denials of life, liberty and personal security. Sri Lankan Tamils have been the primary targets of defendant's state-sponsored criminality."

Dr. Kasippillai Manoharan, now of London, blames Rajapaksa for the extrajudicial beatings and killings of Manoharan's son and four other graduates of Sri Koneswara Hindu College, in the early evening of Jan. 2, 2006. Both father and son are or were Sri Lankan Tamils, an ethnic minority.

Co-plaintiff Kalaselvi Lavan, now of Florida, says her first husband, Premas Anandarajah, was one of 17 humanitarian aid workers with Action Contre La Faim, who were distributing food to Tamil civilians when Sri Lankan military and/or paramilitary forces under Rajapaksa's commend killed them all on Aug. 4, 2006.

Jeyakumar Aitathurai says his aunt, her daughter, her daughter's husband, and her granddaughter, civilians who had nothing to do with the war, in a clearly demarcated civilian zone, were all killed by Sri Lankan security forces on May 14, 2009.

Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese Buddhist, a member of Sri Lanka's largest ethnic group, has been president and commander in chief of the arms forces since he was first elected in November 2005.

The plaintiffs say Rajapaksa "knew or should have known of the extrajudicial killings under color of foreign law" and knew or should have known who the perpetrators were, "and refused to bring them to justice.

"Defendant has politically compromised the Sri Lankan judiciary, which is not independent of defendant," the complaint states. "Accordingly, any effort by plaintiffs to secure a remedy for the extrajudicial killings at issue in this complaint in Sri Lanka would be futile. ... Indeed, there has not been a single complete investigation or prosecution of known perpetrators of extrajudicial killings under color of foreign law that targeted Sri Lankan Tamil civilians or humanitarian aid workers assisting Tamil civilians since the commencement of defendant's presidency."

The 29-page complaint seeks damages for violations of the Torture Victims Protection Act. The plaintiffs are represented by Bruce Fein.

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