Monday, 30 March 2020 09:05

22 civil society organisations criticise Presidential pardon

Contend that overturning Supreme Court decision is a blow to the rule of law


A number of 22 civil society organisations yesterday issued a collective statement contending that the Presidential pardon extended to convicted Army officer after his sentence was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court was a lethal blow to the rule of law.

On 26 March, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa granted a Presidential pardon and released convicted death row prisoner former Army Staff Sergeant R.M. Sunil Rathnayake.

While the country is on lockdown due to COVID-19, the President has seized this opportunity to deal a lethal blow to the rule of law to show that military perpetrators of heinous crimes will be given cover at the highest level despite the rulings of the Supreme Court the highest court in our land, it states.

In pardoning Ratnayake, the President has given his blessing to a cold-blooded killer who murdered a five-year-old child and seven other innocent civilians in Mirusuvil, in the Jaffna Peninsula, it aggrieved.

The story of the civilian murders in Mirusuvil goes back to 20 years – on 19 December 2000, nine Tamils civilians – including three teenagers and a five-year-old child – travelled from Udupiddy to Mirusuvil, a village 16 miles from Jaffna town, in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

These persons were among those displaced from Mirusuvil due to the civil war who were resettled in a camp at Udupiddy.

Justice took more than a decade to wind its way but, against all odds, judgment was delivered at last. On 24 June 2015, former Army Sergeant R.M. Sunil Rathnayake who had been enlarged on bail pending trial was found guilty of murdering the eight civilians and was sentenced to death by the Trial-at-Bar consisting of three High Court Judges held in Colombo.

On appeal against the said judgment a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka unanimously affirmed the conviction and sentence on 25 April 2019.

By granting the Presidential pardon to former Sergeant R.M. Sunil Rathnayake, power has been abused and justice has been forsaken. In a country where military perpetrators have rarely been held to account, leading ethnic distrust to fester into war, the President has granted a pardon to one of few men actually held accountable by our nation’s highest court. His pardon is a direct challenge to Judicial independence and will result in the further erosion and loss of confidence in the Sri Lankan justice system among war-affected communities, it underlines.

It is a matter of regret and national tragedy that neither the State nor Government authorities have over the years offered reparations or compensations to the families of the dead who have been deprived of their bread winners and are condemned to live in poverty for the rest of their lives, it dismayed.

In perspective, the act of granting Presidential pardon to a convicted criminal conveys the chilling message to the public that, irrespective of the gravity of the offence, offenders from the security forces will not be punished even if convicted by a court of law and that any crime or violence committed against the ethnic communities will go unpunished, it blames.

The memorandum is Endorsed by: Centre for human Rights and Development (CHRD), Women’s Action Network (WAN), International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Human Rights Office – Kandy, Human Elevation Organisation (HEO) – Ampara, Law and Society Trust (LST), Eastern Social Development Foundation (ESDF), Mannar Women’s Development Federation (MWDF), National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), Affected Women’s Forum (AWF) – Ampara, Rural Development Foundation (RDF), Institute of Social Development (ISD) – Kandy, Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Prisoners (CPRP), INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions, Centre for Justice and Change, Trincomalee, Rights Now – Collective for Democracy, Right to Life Human Rights Centre, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) and Families of the Disappeared.

(FT)

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