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Sri Lankan President Immunity Argued Today in New York

Sri Lankan President Immunity Argued Today in New York

/ August 23, 2012: NEW YORK CITY --

It is reported today, August 23rd, that the issue of Head of State Immunity for Sri Lankan President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaska, in the case of Vathsala Devi v. Mahinda Rajapaksa (Docket# 11-CIV-6634) was argued in the US District Court, Southern District of New York.

The Tamil widow of Thurairajasingham (Colonel Ramesh) brought an action against Mahinda Rajapaksa, the sitting President of Sri Lanka and the agents under his control. She is asking for compensatory and punitive damages for torture, inhumane treatment and war crimes inflicted by the defendant in violation of the laws of the United States and International Law.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald Presided over the case argued by Mr. Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, Esq who appeared for the plaintiff. The State Department was represented by Amy A. Barcelo Assistant US Attorney. Ali Abed Beydoun argued on behalf of Speak Human Rights and Environmental Initiative, which filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Plaintiff's position.

The issue in the case is whether it should be dismissed pursuant to the Suggestion of Immunity submitted by the US State Department.

Pursuant to the request by the Sri Lankan President the US Department of State filed the Suggestion of Immunity stating, "the Department of State recognizes and allows the immunity of President Rajapaksa as a sitting head of state from the jurisdiction of the United States District Court."

The Plaintiff argued that the Department of State lacks a legal basis, namely the law making authority, to file the Suggestion of Immunity and under emerging customary international law violations of jus cogens norms, namely torture, genocide, crimes against humanity & war crimes, pierced the veil of immunity.

The Department of State argues that for the last 160 years courts have accepted the State Department's determination of Head of State Immunity. The amici argued the State Department's determination violates the separation of powers.

The judge made an observation that the fact Congress has not amended the law to eliminate the State Department's role suggests that it acquiesces the State Department's position.

The Judge reserved the decision.

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