by Daily FT, Colombo, April 2, 2020
- HRCSL writes to President saying pardon sends negative message, reinforces allegations of impunity and lack of justice for victims of violations
- Says SC judgment in Mirusuvil case considered landmark judgment
- Granting Presidential pardon to convict of such a judgment sets very negative precedent
- Says HRCSL would have been in agreement if President had commuted death sentence to long-term imprisonment, given serious nature of offence
The Human Rights Commissions of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has expressed deep concern on the reported grant of a Presidential pardon to Corporal Sunil Ratnayake, who was convicted of eight counts of murder by a Trial-at-Bar, and which conviction was subsequently confirmed by a unanimous judgment of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on 24 April 2019 (SC TAB 1/2016).
“We are deeply concerned due both to the serious nature of the charges brought by the Attorney General against Ratnayake, which included the killing of three children, and the strength of the Supreme Court judgment which upheld the conviction,” HRCSL Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama said in a letter sent to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The case arises from the killing of eight persons, including 3 children aged 5, 13, and 15 years, on 19 December 2000 in the village of Mirusuvil in the Jaffna District. The bodies were then disposed of and later dug up consequent to a Judicial Inquiry. According to the presiding Judicial Officer and the then-officer in charge of the Military Police in the Jaffna Peninsula, the location of the bodies was identified by Sunil Ratnayake.
“The granting of a Presidential pardon to a person convicted of such a heinous offence, and whose conviction was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, sends a negative message that reinforces allegations of impunity and lack of justice for victims of violations in Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court judgment in the Mirusuvil case was considered a landmark judgment, similar to that in the Embilipitiya schoolboy murder case several years ago, both of which contributed in a significant manner to address the issue of impunity in the country. There have been very few such convictions. The granting of a Presidential pardon to the convict of such a judgment sets a very negative precedent,” HRCSL said.
The letter, a copy of which was made available to the media, said that Ratnayake was sentenced to death per the law of the country, which makes that sentence mandatory for murder. “Our Commission has been resolute in its opposition to the death penalty and has repeatedly called for its abolition and replacement with suitable alternate punishment. Our expression of concern about the pardon in this instance does not in any manner amount to an acceptance of the death penalty. What we wish to emphasise is that a person convicted of such an offence should undergo commensurate punishment. We would have been in agreement if Your Excellency had commuted the death sentence to long-term imprisonment, given the serious nature of the offence,” the letter added.