Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday pardoned and released an Army man who was on death row for killing eight Tamil civilians, including a five-year-old and two teenagers, in 2000 during the civil war.
“The President has instructed the Ministry of Justice to release Sgt Ratnayake from prison,” a spokeswoman at the Presidential Media Division said.
In 2015, Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was convicted for the killings in Mirusuvil, Jaffna Peninsula, and sentenced to death.
In 2019, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance condemns pardon of murder convict
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka’s main party representing Tamils of the north and east, condemned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to pardon and release an Army officer who was on death row for killing eight Tamil civilians — including a 5-year-old and two teenagers— in 2000 during the civil war.
“If true, we condemn the opportunistic action of Prez @GotabayaR under guise of dealing with the issue of prisoners at a time like this. This is one case in which a person was actually convicted. Other cases weren’t even prosecuted or were acquitted,” the TNA tweeted.
Sri Lanka has been on a near-total lockdown and enforced curfew for a week now, with a total of 104 COVID-19 patients reported so far.
In 2015, Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was tried before a three-member bench at the Colombo High Court. He was convicted for the murder in Mirusuvil, Jaffna Peninsula, and sentenced to death. In 2019, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the sentence.
The case is widely cited as a rare instance of accountability, amid lingering concerns over impunity for war-crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s three-decade civil war.
Issuing a statement, rights watchdog Amnesty International said using the pandemic as an opportunity to release those convicted for heinous crimes is reprehensible. “Victims have a right to justice, and Sri Lanka has an obligation to ensure that justice is done.
Semblance of justice
After many long years, the victims of the Mirusuvil massacre from 2000 finally got a semblance of justice in 2015. It is despicable to have that justice reversed through an arbitrary executive decision,” Amnesty regional director Biraj Patnaik said.
Asked to comment on the Presidential pardon, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Legal Reforms, said a report had been called from his Ministry. “The final decision is with the President. He can overrule anything. He has the absolute power to grant pardon, no one can question him,” he told The Hindu, adding that the constitutionally mandated procedure for the pardon was followed.
M.A. Sumanthiran, former Jaffna MP and a senior lawyer, said the executive pardon in the “rarest of rare cases” that ended in a conviction confirms that the Sri Lankan state “will never” exercise accountability for war-time atrocities.
“All the institutions of the state will eventually conspire together and let the offenders go free,” he told The Hindu.