At last three Fundamental Right violation petitions have been filed this week, challenging the Sri Lankan president’s decision to pardon a soldier who was convicted of massacring eight Tamil civilians, including three children.
Tamil families of the murdered villagers filed a petition through their Attorney-at-Law Kesavan Sajanthan, whilst the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternative and its Executive-Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu reportedly filed a separate petition.
Former member of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SLHRC) Ambika Satkunanathan also filed a petition challenging the pardon.
“The Petitioner was utterly shocked and dismayed, when on or around 26-03-2020, during a time when the country was under curfew due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Petitioner became aware that the 2nd Respondent [Sunil Ratnayake] had been allegedly granted a presidential pardon,” it states.
“The President’s power to grant Pardon cannot be arbitrarily used and should not be exercised for collateral purposes,” it added, stating that the move was “arbitrary, capricious, irrational contrary to the principles of Natural Justice” and “tantamount to Contempt of Court”.
The release of Ratnayake brought widespread condemnation, Including from the United States, the United Nations, several international human rights organisations, Tamil diaspora groups and all major Tamil political parties. In the south, Sinhala Buddhist monks praised the pardon, which Sinhala extremist groups have long been lobbying for.
Ratnayake was sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of the 8 Tamils, including 3 children, in an incident now dubbed the Mirusuvil massacre. The Tamils had been arrested by Sri Lankan security forces on the10th of December 2000. The following day 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.
Ponnathurai Maheswaran, who managed to survive and escape from the army, testified in court and identified at least five of the soldiers responsible. After a lengthy court process only Ratnayake, a member of the military’s elite Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), had been sentenced. The other men were cleared of all charges.
Satkunanathan’s petition said the sentencing of Ratnayake was “one of the rare instances where errant military officers have been prosecuted”. “A Presidential Pardon is in effect a granting of immunity to the actions of such Respondent and would be a carte blanche for such Respondent and others act with impunity,” it added
“Granting such pardon, in effect, justifies the hate speech rhetoric surrounding the particularly targeted the minority community to which the victims’ belonged.”
See more in our editorial: Pardoning a mass murderer - Sri Lanka amidst a pandemic