Debevoise and CJA Ask U.N. Human Rights Committee to Hold Sri Lanka Accountable for Killing of Acclaimed Journalist

8 January 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), acting on behalf of Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the daughter of acclaimed Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, filed a complaint today against the Government of Sri Lanka with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, seeking accountability for the Government’s role in Mr. Wickrematunge’s 2009 assassination.

Twelve years ago today, Mr. Wickrematunge was brazenly killed by a group of military assassins on the streets of Sri Lanka’s capital, as part of a systematic attack on the free press by government and pro-government groups. Over the past year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government has overseen a concerted resurgence in the persecution of journalists.

The complaint alleges that the Government of Sri Lanka perpetrated grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the rights to life, freedom from torture, and freedom of expression, by orchestrating Mr. Wickrematunge’s assassination and failing to adequately investigate it or prosecute those responsible for his death. It requests that the Human Rights Committee ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka conducts an independent, exhaustive, and effective investigation into the attack against Mr. Wickrematunge; prosecutes those responsible at all levels of the Government; apologizes to and compensates the Wickrematunge family for the violations they have suffered; and guarantees an end to these human rights violations.

“Today is the anniversary of my father’s assassination and I live every day with the pain of his loss,” said Ms. Wickrematunge. “The Sri Lankan government killed my father for his independent reporting. Twelve years later, I see those responsible for his death in the highest positions of power within the Sri Lankan government, carrying out the same crimes they committed over a decade ago.”

“Amidst investigative and accountability efforts that have been blocked for more than a decade, the UN Human Rights Committee offers a last resort for holding Sri Lanka to account for its wrongdoing,” said Debevoise partner Natalie Reid.

The Debevoise team includes Catherine Amirfar, Natalie Reid, Elizabeth Nielsen, Duncan Pickard, Alyssa Yamamoto, Sebastian Dutz, Samantha Singh and Alexa Busser Lopez.