The Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence calls for withdrawal of the special Presidential pardon granted to Sunil Ratnayake, a former army staff sergeant, who was convicted for the murder of eight Tamil civilians including a five-year-old child in Mirusuvil, Jaffna on the 19th of December 2000. The conviction made by a Trial-at-Bar in 2015 was later upheld by the Supreme Court of the country in 2019. The Sri Lankan military has been responsible for grave human rights abuses at different moments from the very beginning of the armed conflict to the horrible end of the war. The human rights violations against Tamil civilians during the war have for the most part not found justice from the judicial system of Sri Lanka. That only a few cases where the military stands accused have been prosecuted so far and that only on one or two occasions were convictions made is a startling testimony to the structural ethnic biases of the judicial system and the unjustifiable tolerance shown by the state to crimes committed by its armed forces.
The Presidential pardon has overridden and nullified a verdict which indicated that at least once in the recent history of Sri Lanka the judicial system of the country could rise above the divisive ethnic politics spawned by the state. Rendering the role of the judiciary redundant and ineffectual, this Presidential pardon may act as a dangerous catalyst for future heinous crimes. We are utterly shocked that the pardon has been issued under cover of an emergency situation while Sri Lanka and the rest of the world are trying to deal with a deadly pandemic and a serious humanitarian crisis. The Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence joins other groups and individuals in condemning this pardon and other sinister attempts on the part of the government to take advantage of the impasse caused by the pandemic to achieve their narrow political goals.
While this decision to pardon Mr. Ratnayake re-confirms that the state treats its armed forces as an entity that is above the rule of law, it once again explains why Tamils, other minority communities and marginalized sections of the country’s polity do not have much confidence in the local political and judicial apparatuses. To whom should we turn to for our security as citizens if the President himself is going against a decision made by the justice system? Where can the minority communities and those who occupy the margins of our society seek justice if a fair verdict made by the country’s courts of law could be annulled with a stroke of the Presidential pen? Decisions of this kind further the divisions within the country and curtail the space for ethnic reconciliation and pluralistic coexistence of communities.
The brutal manner in which the JVP insurgencies were brought to an end with the aid of the military and the military’s involvement in the killing of Sinhalese protesters demanding clean drinking water in Rathupaswala in 2013 amply demonstrate that the military has been used by the Sri Lankan state to crush protests and struggles by the economically marginalized and downtrodden sections of the Sinhala community. The victims in these instances have received little to no justice from the state to date. The impunity the military enjoys in Sri Lanka is detrimental to all communities that inhabit this island. Therefore, it is essential that all communities in the island come together in denouncing the Presidential pardon of Mr. Ratnayake.
The Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence calls upon the people of this country, members of the legal profession and groups that value democracy, non-violence and coexistence to take a firm, unequivocal stand against this Presidential pardon and urge the President to uphold the conviction made by the judicial system of the country and refrain from making similar decisions that undermine democracy and justice in the future. (Jaffna People’s Forum for Coexistence)