South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, questions the Presidential pardon of former Army Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, who was convicted for the killing of 8 unarmed civilians including 3 children in Mirisuvil, Jaffna in 2000. SAHR is also disturbed by the President’s motive to release this convict at a time when the country is distracted with the Covid 19 pandemic.

The former Army Sergeant was convicted by the High Court in 2015 and a five-judge-bench of the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed this conviction in 2019. This conviction was based on eye witness testimony which was corroborated by evidence from the Military Police, with sufficient evidence proving his guilt. It has been reported that the Army officer was released on 26th March as a response to the election promise made by President Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

SAHR believes that this action greatly undermines the Judiciary of Sri Lanka and creates a dangerous precedent for future arbitrary pardons by the Executive, without judicial oversight. SAHR is also reminded of the occasion where the current President indicated that the Judiciary should not intervene in the actions of the Executive when serving the country, which is a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in the constitution and the equilibrium of the three branches of the government.

SAHR notes that this action by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is a deliberate attempt to hinder the process of reconciliation, accountability and transitional justice where victims still await justice after more than ten years from the end of the war. SAHR believes that such actions by the Executive will result in victims losing trust in domestic structures to deliver on justice and accountability.

Therefore, we urge all authorities in Sri Lanka, as a state party to the ICCPR, to uphold the human rights of its citizens, ensure justice to the war victims and address rights violations in order to lay the foundations for a sustainable peace.

On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,

Sultana Kamal
Chairperson

Mohamed Latheef
Co-chairperson