Skip to main content
//empty //empty

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at a cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Sept. 14, 2020.

BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

A group of Tamil Canadians is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for legal changes to remove sovereign immunity as a defence for international crimes.

Such a move would enable Sri Lankan families to seek justice for their disappeared loved ones, said Kumenan Kunaratnam, a Tamil activist in Ottawa, in a Parliament Hill news conference Monday.

A civil war gripped the country between 1983 and 2009, with insurgents who sought a separate Tamil state battling a central government dominated by Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese.

Story continues below advertisement

Amnesty International estimates at least 60,000 people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since the late 1980s, with the activists saying most of the victims are Tamil. Last year the United Nations noted that thousands of people in Sri Lanka don’t know what happened to missing loved ones.

“This is an issue that must deeply concern all human beings,” Kunaratnam said.

The legal doctrine of sovereign immunity largely protects governments from court actions in other countries. There are exceptions, however, such as when a state engages in commercial activities.

Kunaratnam said sovereign immunity should be removed. “If sovereign immunity can be removed as a defence for a commercial transaction, why cannot it be removed for international crimes?”

He said that such legislation will not only benefit Tamils but also victims of enforced disappearances across the globe.

Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished during conflicts or periods of repression in at least 85 countries around the world, according the United Nations.

A group of four Tamil Canadians finished a 16-day “walk for justice” from Brampton, Ont., to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to raise awareness about the human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Another group of three activists walked from Montreal to Ottawa.

Story continues below advertisement

The group also wants Canada to refer Sri Lanka to the committee established under the United Nations convention against enforced disappearance.

Although Sri Lanka ratified the UN’s convention against enforced disappearances in 2016, it invoked a provision of the international treaty that prevents victims from petitioning the committee over a country’s violations of the convention. Only another country can make such a complaint against Sri Lanka.

Canada, however, has not signed on to the convention at all, limiting its standing to make such a complaint.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies