17 April, 2024


30th Anniversary Of Richard De Zoysa’s Murder & The Continuing Culture Of Impunity 

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

30 years ago, Richard de Zoysa was abducted and disappeared. His dead body was later found on a beach. During the same period, literally tens of thousands of persons throughout the country were also disappeared, and none of the cases relating to such disappearances have been resolved through genuine investigations and prosecutions. Indeed, the process of causing such disappearances by the state fundamentally changed the practical reality of the country’s legal system. 

Richard de Zoysa was a well-known journalist, poet and actor. His case received a great deal of media attention in Sri Lanka and internationally, both due to him being a well-known young activist and celebrity, and also due to the tireless efforts of his mother. The details about his killing, and his mother’s search for justice, were written about widely.

This death and what followed remains an issue of great importance, not only regarding his case but also as a reflection of the culture of impunity that has become an entrenched part of the Sri Lankan justice system, with enormous societal implications. It is well established that Richard de Zoysa was abducted by a team of police officers, tortured and later killed. His body was dumped at sea from a chopper, with the killers believing that this would mean his body would be hidden and the murder would never be found out.  However, when the body floated onto a beach, people recognized him and the matter was reported out. His mother, a medical doctor, famously stated, “I was lucky that my son was brought back to me by the sea.” She was referring to the fact that in tens of thousands of other cases the parents, families and loved ones of the disappeared did not ever get to know where their bodies were buried or disposed of.

There are two very simple facts arising from these largescale disappearances: The first is that, as government-appointed commissions of inquiry into involuntary disappearances have clearly demonstrated, large numbers of killings happened after the victims were arrested by law enforcement agencies. The only logical conclusion to arrive at is that these enforced disappearances were a result of an approved government policy. The second fact is the state involvement in the sanctioning and carrying out of killings of arrested persons has resulted in the complete impossibility of getting any kind of credible criminal investigation and prosecution into these murders, which are camouflaged under the term enforced disappearances. 

When a state deliberately approves and carries out large-scale killings of arrested persons, all the fundamentals of the justice system are violated. The issue that should be raised in the murder of Richard de Zoysa and tens of thousands of others is about murder that has been carried out with the state approval and state supervision.

When looked at from that point of view, the collapse of the basic legal administration of Sri Lanka is no surprise. If Sri Lanka is to return to being a country that respects the rule of law and defends the security of the people, the first step that needs to be taken is to acknowledge the state’s culpability in these murders and to take appropriate actions in order to reassure the people that everything will be done to ensure accountability and to prevent any recurrence in the future.  

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Latest comments

  • 12

    It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Richard De Soysa was brutally tortured, and killed, by criminals who were never held accountable for such a violent crime. Richard De Soysa’s poor mother could never get over the death of her ONLY child, and was heartbroken for the rest of her life. Richard De Soysa was an extremely intelligent young man, and a brilliant journalist, and his life was cut short by those wanting to silence him. No different to the brutal killing of Lasantha, when people in Sri Lanka’s leadership, also wanted him silent, and made into an example, and when questioned dismissed the murder asking who Lasantha was. These vicious leaders have ignored these crimes and not held those involved accountable and punished, and we can expect more efforts to silence Sri Lankan journalists who only want to do their job, and keep the pubic informed. Leaders who want to act like dictators, are corrupt, and do not want the country to know their crimes, always makes the media the enemy.

    Richard De Soysa will never be forgotten.

  • 14

    If Richard de Zoysa’s murder was invetigated properly and the perpotrators punished, today thosands of mothers will not be on the streets asking for their childrens’ where about, afte having handed them over to the army. Impunity leads to more and more impunity and ends up in Geneva?.

  • 3

    Looking at his face, he looks like a CHE GUVERA. If that is the case, even NGOs, International community do not care because he was supporting the spreading of Communist theory.
    Irrespecrive of the parties, Sri Lankan govts were very harsh on it’s young rebels. I think except Mrs. B and JRJ, all others were brutal on them.
    I think what journalists should do not going behind those instead ask changes to the way country is governed, strategies, laws and method to handle youth insuboridination or rebelliousness. That is very very sad and regrettable period of Sri Lanka that should be corrected but not by promoting hatred and revenge instead developing more humane strategies. Journalists should write about those.

  • 6

    I once remember I watched a drama organized by the English Drama Society at S. Thomas’ college. My nephew was also part of that drama and hence my presence.

    Richard De Soysa won the Best actor award. The drama was Taming of the Shrew and Richard De Soysa’s role was such that he had to say one sentence for the entire. But yet he won the Best Actor award for that single line role. Such a Talent.

    But he lost his way later on. He started being gay and taking it up there from other men and what not. A few weeks before he was put down, he also wrote an article that was very detrimental towards Sri Lanka. In fact SL had he lived to publish that article SL would have lost a crucial IMF loan which would have had devastating consequences for SL.

    So, the govt. of the day had to do what it had to do if you know what I mean. Media freedom my foot. Those are political gimmicks in rich countries. In poor countries like SL at that time, there should have been no Media Freedom at all.

    • 19

      “He started being gay”? That alone shows how ignorant and uninformed you are.

      • 2

        Well, I don’t know. Maybe you know all about it and can explain to us why that is.

      • 4

        Manel, this Retarded bugger from the army neither amounted to anything at school nor in the army. See when he retired (so he says, I think he was fired), he only got to the level of a very low ranking commissioned officer. He is a loser and a rowdy. So give it to him, don’t ask questions. Cut him down wherever he pops his ugly face.

    • 14

      No one deserves to be tortured and killed, for being gay, or for any political reason. NOTHING justifies the way he was dragged out of his house while sleeping, and being horribly tortured and killed by those who profess to be good Buddhists. This is Sri Lanka’s shame.

    • 2

      You are spot on. He was gay, protestant and anti Sinhala Buddhist and anti Sri Lankan.
      This collection of weird features explains the fascination of UNP Pentecostal types for this non entity who paid for treachery with his life.

      • 5

        Okay then let s kill all that are gay and LGBT to please you so called pirith noole wearing Rajapakshe supporters. I would not call you guys as BUDDHISTS but buddhagama followers. Buddhagama is made for your benefit in this country. No matter any others would feel back you the sakkiliyas should be kept above the law.
        Like or not, believe or not, our problem of the day has been – Rajaapakshe CRIMINALs.
        They loot, they murder broad day light, but People are made to believe, they are the leaders of this god punished land. I am ashamed to be a sinhala man … that is why I dont even name myself as sinhalaya today.

        The day Ballige putha Rajakahes are gone from country, we would feel it better. See the very same back lickers such as UPFA secretary opens mouth today. He himself says, Basil ballige putha should be given a position regardless of his AMERICAN citizenship. Why the looters be given such status regardless of their high crimes committed.

      • 4

        Hey Titus Banda Saparamaduwe, how did you end up with a Catholic name?

    • 8

      Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera
      ”…He started being gay and taking it up there from other men and what not. A few weeks before he was put down, he also wrote an article that was very detrimental towards Sri Lanka ..”

      OK, so Richard was gay, does it matter? There are many openly gay celebrities & one’s sexual preferences is private & certainly not illegal anymore, nor a disease in medical terms. Furthermore, as far as I know, only sick animals are put down to end their suffering, not human beings. Richard had the guts to expose the truth as expected from any true journalist. If it was ‘fake news’, the govt. had the right to sue him or even punish him in jail unjustly with trumped up charges, the fate of many political activists in dictatorial regimes, but no one has the right to murder a person in the best interest of the country. If this is what you have been brainwashed with by the army, you have confirmed the integrity of the SL army.

      • 3


        Thanks for a well articulated counter response to my post.

        I am not saying RDZ being Gay was a contributing factor to his death. I just brought that up to say he lost his way at some point.

        The only contributing factor to his death was his literary contributions that were very detrimental to the country. You are talking about law suits. Have you lived during that era? When people were going up in flames every few hours, when people were tied to lamp posts and killed when public servants were shot in cold blood, what law suits are you talking about?

        There’s no time for that. Those were extra ordinary times in history a total bloodbath. And the govt of the day had to put an end to the Bheeshanaya by creating another Bheeshanaya.

        Under SLs emergency regulations there is no requirement to follow due process. So, technically the government hasn’t broken laws. After all, thats what either you or your parents voted for.

    • 2

      Retarded Shemale Perehera, I am not sure how a rowdy and hoodlum like you wake up everyday and look in the mirror? A mother lost her only child and you sit here and make sarcastic remarks about the murder. I only wish one day the same happens to you and you will wither away very slowly in emotional pain. You dirty rascal, I wish you rot in hell.

  • 8

    I was surprised to see this article because the large scale extra judicial deaths and disappearances during this particular period is selectively ignored by most “independent” media and journalists since it doesn’t fit with their political agenda.

    I just finished reading very well researched three books related to this particular period and events. It clearly demonstrates how state sanctioned enforced disappearances have brutalised not only the society but members of security forces many of whom would be silently suffering from PTSD and other related illnesses and carried those scars to the next phase of the internal conflict that ended in 2009.

  • 6

    My Elders tell me the new UNP Opposition Leader’s Mom and Dad had something to do with this Dude’s disappearance ..

    May be Native Vadda can shed some light .on what happened to this talented actor..

    • 1

      Richard De Zoysa and the word ‘talented’ in the same sentence?
      You can’t be serious, pal!

  • 2

    Even the death of Rohana Wijeweera , the way he was killed and how many JVP youth, both men and women lost their lives, how they killed innocent people, is very sad and devastating. Buit, NGOs are not interested and no one is writing to bring strategies in the future in case similar thing are repeated.
    The good part is both the LTTE- Tamils and Easter attack suspects are held, I think that is good as long as Tamils and wahabis do not scream about human rights.

  • 7

    An incredibly gifted young man.
    Perhaps it was his youthful exuberance that prompted him to throw caution to the wind and taken on ruthless , brutal , powerful men . Although he too was connected to people in very high places , they couldn’t save him from what must have been a horrible end to a brilliant young life .

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