The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rightgs and the US ambassador for Sri Lanka have condemned the pardoning of convicted murderer, former MP, and close Rajapaksa ally, Duminda Silva.
In 2016, Sri Lanka’s courts found Silva guilty, along with four others, of the unlawful execution of fellow politician Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and three of his supporters during local elections in Colombo in 2011.
Daughter of Bharatha Lakshman, Hirunika Premachandra, welcomed the conviction in 2016 claiming it was only possible due to the change in the presidency and calling for;
“Justice for all the murders that happened during the previous era, including the killing of former editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, so their families can get justice".
The UN High Commissioner has criticised the pardon tweeting:
#SriLanka: Presidential pardon of Duminda Silva, a former MP convicted of the murder of a fellow politician, is another example of selective, arbitrary granting of pardons that weakens rule of law and undermines accountability.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 24, 2021
The US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, further condemned the move tweeting:
We welcome the early release of PTA prisoners, but the pardon of Duminda Silva, whose conviction the Supreme Court upheld in 2018, undermines rule of law. Accountability and equal access to justice are fundamental to the UN SDGs to which the GoSL has committed.
— Ambassador Teplitz (@USAmbSLM) June 24, 2021
Response from the Rajapaksa family
Namal Rajapaksa, Minister of Youth and Sports, claiming a “great injustice” was imposed on Silva by the previous administration. Silva’s pardon was recommended by the widely panned Commission of Inquiry into “political victimisation” established by the Rajapaksa administration which was established to examine investigations launched by the previous administration into allies of the Rajapaksa family. The commission has called for the pardoning of those accused of egregious human rights violations and corruption as well as for those who submitted evidence to face prosecution.
Amongst the high-profile cases, the commission has recommended pardons for, are the 2008 abduction and torture of a journalist, Keith Noyahr; the 2009 murder of a newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge; and the 2010 disappearance of a journalist, Prageeth Ekneligoda, in which a criminal trial is proceeding. In all of these cases, police have provided evidence implicating Gotabaya Rajapaksa in these crimes.
Sri Lanka’s Bar Association (BASL) has questioned Silva’s pardon, noting that whilst the 34th Article of Sri Lanka’s constitution grants a right of pardon; the first proviso demands “requires the President to call for a report from the Judge who tried the case” and for both Sri Lanka’s Attorney General and Minister to provide advice. Their statement calls for greater transparency asking what considerations were made for this pardon, noting “in the past there have been instances where selective pardons have been granted without any material to justify” the decision.
BASL further states:
“Whilst the President has the power and discretion to pardon, such discretion must always be exercised judiciously. Such powers must not be exercised arbitrarily and selectively”.
Read more here.
Repeal of the PTA
The pardon of Silva follows the grant of pardon to 94 political prisoners convicted under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which includes 16 alleged “former members of the Liberational Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Commenting on the pardon, Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) leader, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, welcomed the release of political prisoners but insists that it comes conveniently after Sri Lanka’s GSP+ came under question.
“The government minister or [concerning officials] should not be allowed to say whether these prisoners should be freed or not. The systemic problem is the PTA. Unless you repeal the PTA and make sure no other law is brought in that even resembles the PTA, this systematic arbitrary injustice will continue”.
Repeal of the PTA formed a key promise under the GSP+ trading agreement and the EU has recently passed a resolution condemning Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation and calling for a repeal of the PTA.