The Honorable Julie J. Chung, Ambassador to Sri Lanka
U.S. Department of State – Colombo Embassy
210 Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka
Dear Ambassador Chung,
As the Tamil American community, we jointly write to you today to express our deep concern and disappointment regarding your meeting last week with Sri Lankan Defense Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne and what you described as the “enduring security partnership” between the United States and Sri Lanka. Mr. Gunaratne is credibly accused of war crimes and serious violations of both international humanitarian law and international human rights law, through both his command of the 53rd Division of the Sri Lankan army in the final stages of the armed
conflict in 2009, and his role in running the army garrison in Vavuniya, erstwhile known as the infamous “Joseph Camp”. In the face of continued militarization of the North-East and continued rejection of UN accountability processes by Sri Lanka, any engagement with alleged war criminals such as Gunaratne and support of the Sri Lankan military promotes domestic impunity that stifles the longstanding demands for accountability and justice of the Tamil people. This runs antithetical to the stated commitment from the United States of promoting human rights in Sri Lanka.
The assaults led by Gunaratne at Puthukkudiyiruppu, Putumattalan, and Mullivaikkal during the final stages of the armed conflict in 2009 were marred by disproportionate, intentional, and repeated attacks on civilian hospitals, makeshift hospitals, densely populated civilian areas, and food distribution points, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian casualties. A 2015 Investigation by the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) into Sri Lanka (OISL) found that the 53rd Division, while commanded by Gunaratne, was involved in attacks on hospitals and civilians in three “No Fire Zones,” summary execution, torture, and sexual violence. Per his own autobiography, Gunaratne and Major General Shavendra Silva of the 58th Division received direct orders from Gotabaya Rajapaksa on May 14, 2009, to “hasten the end of the war so as to avoid succumbing to US pressure to halt the fighting”, despite the significant civilian toll. Between 40,000 and 169,796 Tamils were killed or unaccounted for in the final months of the war.
It is worth noting that for similar conduct and command responsibilities as Gunaratne, the United States designated Silva in 2020 under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, “due to credible information of his involvement, through command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009.” Gunaratne, through command responsibility, is implicated in one of the most emblematic cases of extrajudicial killings of the armed conflict. It was the 53rd Division that captured well-known TV presenter Isaipriya, who was filmed alive and surrendering to the Sri Lankan army. Subsequently, per ITJP, “forensic analysis of images of her corpse conducted by the United Nations shows she was summarily executed, and her body desecrated.”
In the aftermath of the conflict, Gunaratne served as the Commander of the Sri Lankan Headquarters in the Vanni (often referred to as the “Joseph Camp”) and Competent Authority for the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps from 2009 to 2011. The camps amounted to unlawful detention per the United Nations of approximately 282,000 Tamil civilians, who were detained primarily due to their ethnicity, and were subjected to crimes of rape, torture, and sexual violence. Gunaratne’s continued impunity for his involvement in torture in the final stages of the war remains of deep concern, as noted in a Congressional Letter to Secretary Blinken earlier this year, which urged the United States to hold Sri Lanka accountable under the Convention against Torture for decades of torture for which Sri Lankan perpetrators have yet to be held legally accountable. Gunaratne’s continued impunity towards the rule of law has continued well beyond the conflict, as he was investigated in 2013 for the killing of an Embassy staff member during his time as Deputy Ambassador to Brazil.
Since the end of the ethnic-war, the militarization of the North-East accelerated under the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who promoted and appointed military personnel accused of war crimes to take over civilian roles including being in charge of customs, the COVID-19 response, the port authority, development, agriculture and poverty eradication. This alarming approach of increased militarization of the civilian functions of government has continued under current Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe. That Gunaratne continues to serve as Defense Secretary
demonstrates not only Sri Lanka’s failure to engage in meaningful security sector vetting and reform post-conflict but is representative of the state’s adamant insistence that those it deems “war heroes” will be celebrated, despite credible evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and participation in the Tamil genocide. This culture of impunity is deeply embedded within Sri Lanka’s state structure and is emboldened and legitimized by the US’s continued interactions with these individuals and security partnership.
In the run up to the 15th anniversary of the Mullivaikkal Genocide, it is essential that the United States demonstrates its strong commitment to the human rights, demands for accountability, and political rights of the Tamil people. Especially in light of the credible allegations of war crimes against Mr. Gunaratne, we are deeply concerned about the impact of the Embassy emphasizing such engagement with him and the message that it sends in undermining the efforts of the victim-survivor community for accountability and justice. We urge the United States to reassess its ongoing security partnership with Sri Lanka, in light of over a decade of failure by successive Sri Lankan governments to meaningfully address human rights, accountability, and a permanent political solution for the Tamil people.
Thank you. We eagerly await your response.
On behalf of the following Tamil Organizations:
1. Federation of Global Tamil Organizations (FGTO); firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA); email@example.com
3. Ilankai Tamil Sangam; firstname.lastname@example.org
4. People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL); email@example.com
5. Tamil Americans United PAC; firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (Human Rights Ministry of TGTE); email@example.com
7. United States Tamil Action Group(USTAG); firstname.lastname@example.org
8. World Thamil Organization; email@example.com
CC: Congress Leaders, SCA, HCFA, SCFR
 Sri Lanka on alarming path towards recurrence of grave human rights violations – UN report | OHCHR .
 https://www.itjpsl.com/assets/press/Kamal-Gunaratne-dossier-final-optimized.pdf p57
 OISL Report p 116
 Public Designation, Due to Gross Violations of Human Rights, of Shavendra Silva of Sri Lanka Under Section
7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act