Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the High Commissioner is troubled by reports that the convicted perpetrator of the Mirusuvil massacre, in Sri Lanka, has received a Presidential Pardon and was released from jail this week.
Former Army sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was sentenced in 2015 for the murder in 2000 of eight civilians, including a five-year-old child, after more than a decade long trial. Five defendants were brought to trial but only Sgt Ratnayake was convicted. The conviction was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in May 2019.
Colville said the Presidential pardon is an afront 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.
He said that victims of such violations and crimes have the right to a remedy and this includes equal and effective access to justice and reparation, and that perpetrators serve a punishment that is proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct.
Colville said that pardoning one of the sole convicted perpetrators of atrocities committed during the Sri Lankan conflict further undermines the limited progress the country has made towards ending impunity for mass human rights abuse.
Meanwhile, responding to the presidential pardon, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia, Biraj Patnaik, said:
An extremely worrying message
“Where accountability is so rare for serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the government’s arbitrary decision to release Sergeant Rathnayaka sends an extremely worrying message. It means that military perpetrators of horrific crimes, even if convicted through a court of law, will be pardoned and released.”
The pardon comes at a time when there are public calls to ease prison crowding by releasing prisoners held for, amongst others, petty crimes and those who are unable to meet bail conditions, to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Amnesty International is also concerned by any further decisions along the same lines as pledged by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his election campaign. Sri Lanka is a party to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) and has an obligation to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms have been violated have an effective remedy (Article 2).
“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. 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,” said Biraj Patnaik.