Pres. Gotabaya’s Twisted Accountability & Justice

By: Thambu Kanagasabai – LLM {London} Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and PRESIDENT, The Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Organization.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksha’s pardon and release of former Army Sergeant Ratnayake who was sentenced to death in 2015 for the brutal murder of 8 Tamil civilians including children in December 2000 is an expected act from an alleged war criminal Gotabaya as he is only fulfilling his election pledge made in October 2019 when he promised “That all military and intelligence officials locked up in jail would be released as they are “War Heroes convicted on baseless charges.” The Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne himself went to the jail and greeted his release which as a “Delightful News” was conveyed by him to a Buddhist Priest Pannaloka Thero who was campaigning for his release following and practising his own brand of Buddhism.

President Gotabaya exploited the “Corona Pandemic” tension and fear prevailing in the country to commit this uncivilized act which is nothing but a stomach turner.

As expected, statements of condemnation from Human Rights Watch and other International organizations exposed this unjustified action by the President Gotabaya. Some of their comments in brief are as follows:-

[1] International Commission,of Jurists {ICJ] on March 2020 “The full pardon and extinguishment of severe punishment contribute a blow to the victims of these violations. President’s pardon may be the first of the many to come.”

[2] UN High Commissioner’s Office on March 27, 2020 “Pardon is an affront to victims” Another example of failure of Sri Lanka to fulfill its international obligations to provide meaningful accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity etc. and gross human rights violations.”

[3] Amnesty International on March 26, 2020: “Where accountability is so rare for serious violations in Sri Lanka, the Government’s arbitrary decision to release Sergeant Ratnayake sends wrong message. It means that military perpetrators of horrific crimes even if convicted through a Court of law will be pardoned and released. It is despicable to have that justice reversed”.

[4] Human Rights Watch on March 26, 2020: This is disregard for justice by administration for worst abuses. Gotabaya’s regime approves any forms of justice for even the worst atrocities. Concerned Governments need to take the Sri Lankan Government’s message on board and respond appropriately. “

President Gotabaya’s pardon of a convicted criminal and let him loose and prowl free on the streets is only a licence and encouragement for him and other similar minded criminals to embark on a revengeful killing spree emboldened due to the guarantee of state protection and impunity.

It is all the more distressing to note the dead and ominous silence of the legal profession, Judges and civil rights groups in Sri Lanka.  It could be due to fear of reprisals from militarized Government controlling civil administration especially in the North and East of Sri Lanka [Traditional and Historical homeland of Tamils]

It is well known that in Sri Lanka accountability and justice are practiced by upholding non-accountability and injustice aided with an entrenched culture of impunity since 1956 and Sri Lanka is rightfully now dubbed as an island of impunity. Even this rare instance of justice meted out by the Supreme Count has been dumped and defiled with contempt while insulting the Judiciary and Legal System. This justice defying reprehensible act of Gotabaya only reinforces and confirms the lack of confidence and faith in Judiciary to dispense justice and reparations to victims who seek the protection of Courts as a last resort.

The truth is that a Sinhalese soldier or official involved in the killings of innocent Tamils during war time or otherwise is glorified as a ‘War Hero” deserving a state welcome even if convicted and sentenced to jail or death. While appreciating the swift condemnation of the International Human Rights Organizations, they shoulder the responsibility to explore and initiate appropriate punitive measures against Sri Lanka which is continuing its defiance and disregard of accountability and justice emboldened by the lax approach by UN and UNHRC with little follow up and response. A failure by the International Community and United Nations to chasten Sri Lanka only encourages its continuance of defiance, delaying tactics, evasion of UNHRC Resolutions  and denial of justice to the victims of war in Sri Lanka while shaking the credibility and international roles of United Nations and UNHRC.

To expect Sri Lanka to observe the universal principles of human rights, rule of law accountability and justice is like chasing mirages as water in the desert, particularly noting the awarded judgement of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka being shredded by the unacceptable pardon of Gotabaya.


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  1. Kumarathasan Rasingam

    Excellent article exposing the culture of impunity to war criminals and convicted criminals for murder. This shows very clearly the state supports these killers who kill Tamils and these criminals are treated as War Heros for killing innocent Tamils. The link below will give a very clear picture especially written by eminent Layers who are Sinhalese
    “When multiethnic and multi-religious societies are confronted with challenges that test the limits of coexistence, governments may be tempted to resort to populism or political expediency. Sri Lanka’s relatively short post-independence history is unfortunately riddled with examples of such compromises. Minorities have been victimised throughout this country’s history. They have had nowhere to turn, except perhaps towards the only institution that is tasked with checking power: the judiciary. Sri Lanka’s judiciary has been called upon time and again to vindicate minority rights in the face of overwhelming oppression by the other organs of government. This study has essentially sought to examine the judiciary’s record in rising to and meeting this enormous challenge. At the heart of the post-independence mandate of the judiciary to protect the rights of all communities was Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution. As detailed in the introduction of this study, the fundamental thinking behind the protection of minority rights flowed from this constitutional provision. However, the contents of this provision were consistently undermined throughout the survival of that Constitution, and in 1972, were omitted altogether from the new Republican Constitution. The gradual undermining of Section 29, culminating in its ultimate omission, in many ways reflected the slow deterioration of minority rights in Sri Lanka. The first Part of this study examined in detail the judiciary’s response to issues of language rights, employment rights, land rights and other basic liberties including the freedom of religion. In each case, the specific treatment of minorities was juxtaposed with the general jurisprudence on the issue. In each case, barring a few exceptions, the judiciary’s treatment of minorities was fundamentally different to the general dispensation on the issue. The unmistakably divergent treatment meted out to litigants from minority communities, in the very least, raises serious doubts over the objectivity and impartiality.”