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UK: Failure to protect witnesses allows suspected war criminals to avoid prosecution

Colonel Karuna returns to Sri Lanka after Met Police fail to build case against him

Amnesty International today expressed disappointment at the deportation from the UK of Sri Lankan national Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna.

Colonel Karuna has been accused of torture, hostage-taking, and the recruitment and use of Children's rights as soldiers in combat.

Amnesty International wrote to the Metropolitan Police raising concerns about the investigation on 14 May and again on 4 June 2008 but has not yet received any replies to these letters.

Together with a number of organisations, Amnesty presented information to the Metropolitan Police relating to grave allegations of human rights abuses committed by Colonel Karuna.
These included statements by victims and witnesses, and names of witnesses who were prepared to provide relevant details about Colonel Karuna’s alleged crimes.

Amnesty International has received testimonies from potential witnesses who felt afraid to testify for fear of reprisals in the UK and in Sri Lanka. The organisation is also aware of at least one witness in Sri Lanka who provided information to the Metropolitan Police and is still in Sri Lanka, without having been given any protection in that country, or having been given the choice of being relocated elsewhere. Amnesty International is concerned that this witness may now face a real risk of reprisals for having given information to the police investigation into Colonel Karuna.

Amnesty International said:

“We have expressed our concerns to the Metropolitan Police that not enough may have been done to protect witnesses as they conducted their investigation. The deportation of Colonel Karuna means that the investigation by the UK authorities has come to an end.

“Colonel Karuna is entitled to be presumed innocent, until and unless guilt can be proved beyond reasonable doubt in a fair trial. We will be writing to the authorities of Sri Lanka to ask for an investigation to be started there into these allegations.”

Amnesty International calls on the UK authorities to establish effective witness protection programmes for investigations into allegations such as these, modelled on the witness protection programmes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court. The organisation also calls on the UK authorities to set up an independent and specialised police and prosecution unit with sufficient resources to deal with crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes.

Colonel Karuna was a prominent leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed opposition group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. He left the LTTE to set up his own splinter group, the Tamileel Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, or People's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (TMVP), which also has a political wing. Since March 2004, the group appears to have been operating with the support of the Sri Lankan Army to challenge the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka.

He was residing in the United Kingdom when he was taken into custody and charged by UK authorities in November 2007 in relation to immigration offences, for which he was subsequently convicted.

Although the allegations against Colonel Karuna relate to actions in Sri Lanka, the courts in the UK could have exercised jurisdiction over a number of the offences he is alleged to have committed:
· over acts of torture committed since March 2004 (the date when Colonel Karuna became allied with government forces), in violation of Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; courts in the UK can try any individual for this offence if committed by, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or person acting in an official capacity, no matter what the nationality of the perpetrator or where the alleged offence was committed: it is an offence of so-called ‘universal jurisdiction’;
· acts of hostage taking committed since 1982, in violation of Section 1 (1) of the Taking of Hostages Act 1982: again, this is an offence of universal jurisdiction, for which the courts in the UK can try someone of any nationality, no matter where the offence was committed;
· war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since September 2001, in violation of the International Criminal Court Act 2001: by virtue of s.51(2)(b) of that Act, the courts in the UK can try someone for a war crime or crime against humanity committed outside the UK, provided that the person is either a UK national, a UK resident or a person subject to UK service jurisdiction, such as serving members of the UK armed forces. To the best of Amnesty International's knowledge, Colonel Karuna was resident in the UK, for the purposes of this Act, at the time of his arrest in November 2007.

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