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In pardoning Sunil Rathnayake, COVID-19 was exploited to reverse justice: Amnesty International

Former Sri Lanka Army staff sergeant R M Sunil Rathnayake (R) – Image credit: ITN

ECONOMYNEXT – In pardoning Former Sri Lanka Army Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, the COVID-19 pandemic was exploited as an “opportunity to reverse justice”, Amnesty International said yesterday, calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to revoke the pardon.

Rathnayake, who was attached to the long range reconnaissance patrol of the army, was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court in June 2015 for his alleged involvement in the Mirusuvil massacre in 2000. The former soldier, who was the firt accused in the case, was found guilty of the murder of eight civilians including three children. He was pardoned by President Rajapaksa on March 26, days after an island-wide curfew was declared to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a 10-page analysis released yesterday, the human rights watchdog detailed how the COVID-19 pandemic was allegedly exploited as an “opportunity to reverse justice in one of the very few cases where a member of the armed forces was convicted of crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s decades-long internal conflict, reinforcing a climate of impunity and underscoring Sri Lanka’s continued failure to uphold its international obligations.”

The organisation requested the President to commute the death sentence.

The Mirusuvil case dragged on for about 13 years, and 13 out of the 14 soldiers barring Rathnayake were acquitted due to insufficient evidence.

The alleged massacre occurred in December 2000 when eight internally displaced persons (IDPs) were arrested in Mirusuvil, Jaffna, and were allegedly tortured and murdered. The victims included three teenagers and a five-year-old child.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had earlier denounced the move as “an affront to victims and yet another example of the failure of Sri Lanka to fulfil its international human rights obligations to provide meaningful accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violations of human rights.” (Colombo/May1/2020)

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