By C.V. Wigneswaran –
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s pardon and release of convicted criminal Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake has very little to do with the COVID-19 epidemic. Rather, it is a political act —showing that Sri Lanka refuses to uphold the obligations it has entered into with the international community and is bent on politicising all aspects of life paying scant respect even to the Judiciary.
Amnesty International has pointed out that during the Presidential race, Gotabaya campaigned on a promise to ‘acquit and release’ soldiers who had been jailed during the armed conflict. Using whatever pretext it may find, this government is protecting its own and ensuring votes from among the majority ccmmunity at the Parliamentary Election soon to take place.
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, Ratnayake’s release is particularly cynical and misanthropic
The Rajapaksa government’s priorities do not align with its international obligations, nor does it wish for “reconciliation” or an easing of tensions between communities. Sri Lanka has demonstrated the low respect or indeed the contempt with which it regards both its international obligations and the UN’s recommendations.
This most recent incident together with Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolutions show that United Nations member states should now review Sri Lanka’s membership in the UN.
Ratnayake’s pardon and release clearly expose to the international community the calibre of our 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. The international community has taken note and will no doubt act accordingly in its relations with the Rajapaksa government. Of course 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.
The Tamil people have endured much and even their small victories are now being reversed. 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 U.N.
*Justice C.V Wigneswaran, Ex Chief Minister, Northern Province