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‘A lethal blow to the rule of law’ - civil society reacts to Sri Lankan soldier pardon

Civil society organisations from across the island have condemned the Sri Lankan president’s pardon of a soldier who was convicted for massacring Tamils, stating that “power has been abused and justice has been forsaken”.

“In a country where military perpetrators have rarely been held to account, leading ethnic distrust to fester into war, the President has granted a pardon to one of few men actually held accountable by our nation's highest court,” said a statement signed by 22 organisations this week. “His pardon is a direct challenge to judicial independence and will result in the further erosion and loss of confidence in the Sri Lankan justice system among war-affected communities.”

Their statement comes in the wake of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoning Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, after he was convicted for massacring eight Tamil civilians, including three children. Their bodies were found in a mass grave with their throats slashed, according to the District Medical Officer’s post-mortem report. All but two of the bodies had been stripped naked. The youngest to have been murdered was a 5-year-old child. The killings have since been dubbed the Mirusuvil massacre. 

“For the four families directly affected, who have suffered from poverty and immeasurable personal loss, their small sliver of solace has been snatched away,” the statement continued. “When the sole surviving witness was previously visited by state intelligence officers soon after the presidential election, he expressed his apprehension that, he has no security or protection if the accused is released.  Now that threat is real, and our laws and structures are hardly equipped to protect him.”

It went on to conclude,

“In perspective, the act of granting presidential pardon to a convicted criminal conveys the chilling message to the public that, irrespective of the gravity of the offence, offenders from the security forces will not be punished even if convicted by Court of Law and that any crime or violence committed against the ethnic communities will go unpunished.”

See the full text of the statement here.