Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland [official website] refused Tuesday to allow a war crimes case against Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website]. McClelland's announcement was in response to charges filed [JURIST report] by an Australian citizen claiming that during the 2009 Sri Lankan civil war, civilian targets were intentionally bombed by military forces. McClelland's consent is needed for such charges to proceed, but a statement issued from his office explained that pursuing such charges would be in breach of international laws [ABC News report], which provide immunity for heads of state. Specifically, the Foreign States Immunity Act 1985 [text] extends immunities to heads of state when visiting on diplomatic missions. The filed charges stem from Rajapaksa's upcoming visit to Perth, Australia, to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) [official website] where prime ministers and presidents of member countries are set to discuss both local and global issues.
The charges follow closely behind a call last week [JURIST report] from the International Commission of Jurists, Australian Section (ICJA) [advocacy website] for Australia to investigate a top ranking official in the Sri Lankan High Commission [official website] in Canberra for war crimes violations allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan Navy during clashes with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LITE) [JURIST news archive] in 2009. Last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] sent a report [JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] accusing Sri Lankan troops of killing tens of thousands of civilians during the civil war. In April, a UN panel of experts on Sri Lanka found credible allegations of war crimes [JURIST report] committed during the country's war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive], warranting further investigation. In December, the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs [official website] announced that the UN panel would be allowed to visit [JURIST report] the island to look into alleged war crimes. The decision signaled a reversal after months of strong opposition [JURIST report] from the Sri Lankan government, which described the UN panel as an infringment of Sri Lanka's sovereignty.