By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, March 29: The former Northern Province Chief Minister and President, Thamizh Makkal Thesiya Kootani (Tamil Peoples’ National Alliance) C.V.Wigneswaran has said that it is time Sri Lanka was dragged to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or a Special Tribunal for Sri Lanka for pardoning army Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake who was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court and the Supreme Court for murdering eight Tamil civilian detainees, including a child, at Mirusuvil in Jaffna district on December 19, 2000.
In a Tamil language press release last week, Wigneswaran had said that the government’s action in gross violation of UN resolutions and principles, should lead to questioning Sri Lanka’s qualification to be a member of the United Nations.
In an English language statement issued on Saturday, Wigneswaran said: “Rathnayaka’s pardon and release clearly expose to the international community the caliber of our (Sri Lankan) powers that be. Even where a Sri Lankan war criminal has been duly tried and convicted of crimes against Tamils, this government has no intention of upholding the integrity of its own judicial decisions.”
“At a time when Sri Lanka continues to hold prisoners without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, violating broadly accepted treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Rathnayaka’s release is particularly cynical and misanthropic,” the former Lankan Supreme Court judge said.
“This deliberate act by the President follows the pattern the Tamils in Sri Lanka had been used to since the 1956 incidents on the Galle Face green followed by 1958 pogroms and subsequent pogroms including 1983, where culprits who committed horrendous crimes have been either not brought before courts or if convicted their punishments not carried out.”
“ It is time that the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against Tamils be brought to justice at the ICC or at a Special Tribunal designed for Sri Lanka by the UN,” Wigneswaran said.
An anguished Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader and former MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, pointed out that in May 2017, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court had confirmed the death sentence passed against Rathnayake by a three-member bench of the Colombo High court in 2015.
“If there had been no case against Rathnayake, as the government claims, two courts of such strength would not have passed the death sentence against him,” Sumanthiran said. “It was a clear case of cold blooded murder in which a child was one of the victims,” he asserted.
“But the pardon was expected given the election time promises of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He had been contending that the cases against the servicemen had no basis at all,” the Tamil MP said.
Sumanthiran said that the pardon further confirms the impression among the Tamil people that they will not get justice from the Sri Lankan State when the offender is a military man. “No justice, even if the offense is committed against civilians including children,” he added.
“It was a political decision on the part of the President, aimed at letting the Tamil people know that they would have to pay for not voting for him in the Presidential election,” Sumanthiran contended.
The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) has said that it will challenge the pardon in the Supreme Court. “Such actions call into question the manner in which Art. 34 (1) of the Constitution is being used by an individual arbitrarily without proper review. Pardons are granted in the country without any form of transparency, undermined the judiciary as well as people’s faith in the judicial system,” said lawyer Senaka Perera of CPRP.
“We want to know from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on what grounds he pardoned Sunil Ratnayake. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court and there has been no miscarriage of justice in this case and hence there are no ground for a pardon. We have been seeking Presidential pardons for many prisoners who have committed less serious crimes and have been languishing in jail for years, some old and ailing, but they have been ignored,” Perera pointed out.
Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia, Biraj Patnaik, said that the pardon “ means that military perpetrators of horrific crimes, even if convicted through a court of law, will be pardoned and released.” The organization said it is also concerned about the possibility of more such decisions in line with the election promise of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The previous Presidential pardon granted to the Royal Park murder case convict Jude Shramantha Jayamaha, a member of the Colombo elite, by the then President Maithripala Sirisena last November, was also widely condemned. A case was filed in the Supreme Court challenging its validity. In the Fundamental Rights petition filed by the Women and Media Collective, a women’s rights group, the Petitioners are seeking a suspension of the Presidential pardon granted to Jayamaha as well as an order to issue guidelines governing the grant of Presidential pardon by the Head of State in terms of Article 34 (1) of the Constitution. The case has been fixed for consideration for 29 May 2020 by the Supreme Court.
Mirusuvil Massacre Case
Sgt.Rathnayake was attached to the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) of the Lankan army which was engaged in the risky business of penetrating LTTE-held territory, killing the terrorists and coming back to base.
In the course of operations in Mirusuvil near Jaffna, Rathnayake and his 13 colleagues had arrested eight Tamil displaced persons including a five year old boy and tortured them for information. The eight persons were then killed by slitting their throats and buried in a single grave on December 19, 2000.
The massacre came to light because one of the arrested, a very badly injured Ponnuthurai Maheswaran, managed to escape from custody. According to the evidence of the District Medical Officer, Dr. C. Kathirvetpillai, the throats of the victim had been slashed. The dead included three teenagers and five-year-old Vilvarajah Prasath.
On November 27, 2002, the Attorney General indicted five of the accused on 19 charges before the Colombo High Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench of three judges (wthout a jury) found Sunil Ratnayake, the first accused, guilty on multiple counts including murder and sentenced him to death. The others were let off for want of evidence. On May 20, 2017, a Supreme Court five-judge-bench unanimously affirmed the conviction and the death sentence.
Rathnayake had confessed to the crime when he was arrested by the Military Police. He also took them to the place the bodies had been buried. All the eight bodies had been dumped into a single grave. Judges had gone to the burial site to see for themselves.
Rathnayake was let off on bail in 2003 under strict conditions and was out till he was convicted by the Colombo High Court in 2015. According to Ratnavel, one of the lawyers for the victims, Rathnayake was confident of winning the case as service personnel were generally let off the hook.
However, the case against him was so strong that the courts had no option but to convict him and sentence him to death. The fact that the Chief Justice ordered a Trial-at-Bar presided over by a three-judge bench without a jury, showed the gravity with which the highest court had looked at the case, Ratnavel said.