Sri Lanka releasing an army officer in the death row for the murder of Tamil civilians including a five-year-old child has drawn international condemnation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to grant a special presidential pardon to Sunil Ratnayake sentenced to death five years ago for the murder of Tamil civilians including a five-year-old child in December 2000, was slammed by UN top rights body as an “affront to victims”.
“The Presidential pardon is an affront to victims and yet another example of the failure of Sri Lanka to fulfil its international human rights obligations to provide meaningful accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights,” said spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville in Geneva.
Staff Sergeant Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Sunil Ratnayake, was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar bench in 2015. He was found to be guilty of murdering eight Tamil civilians at Mirusuvil in Jaffna on December 19, 2000. The eight civilians were Gnanapalan Raviveeran, Sellamuttu Theivakulasingham, Vilvarajah Pratheepan, Sinniah Vilvarajah, Nadesu Jeyachandran, Kathiran Gnanachandran, Gnanachandran Santhan and Vilvarajah Prasath. Prasath was five years old.
The killing came to be known as the ‘Mirusuvil Massacre”.
President Rajapaksa’s decision “shows the administration’s disregard for justice for the worst abuses”, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Rajapaksa government has appointed alleged perpetrators of war crimes to high office while pardoning one of the few soldiers convicted for a terrible offence,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW.
“It should be clear that to deliver justice for victims and to deter future atrocities, an international justice mechanism is needed in Sri Lanka.”
Meanwhile, the International Commission of Jurists has also deplored the decision “to free convicted war criminals” as “taking cynical advantage” of the crisis created by catastrophic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.
The move “reinforces the well-founded public perception that the military is exempt from any form of accountability, even for the most heinous crimes” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
The release was first made public by hardliner Buddhist monk Medille Pannaloka. In a video message broadcast by Sri Lankan media, the monk announced that the defence secretary informed him of the “delightful news”.
Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are both former commanders of the Gajaba Regiment that the Mirusuvil massacre convict served.
“This morning Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne phoned me and said that he has to convey a delightful news. He went to the Welikada prison with his troops and released him and sent him home,” said Medille Pannaloka.
He added that the defence secretary was fulfilling a promise given in January that Sunil Ratnayake would be released before the Sri Lankan new year dawning in April.
The Presidential pardon comes while the government was urged to release minor offenders and the elderly that would ease overcrowding in jails where prisoner rights activists fear the spread of coronavirus.
Two detainees were killed and six others injured when prison guards opened fire at protesters who demanded their release to escape the deadly virus.