Sri Lanka to legalise impunity for intelligence officials

The new government of Sri Lanka has approved plans to design laws aimed at granting immunity to members of its intelligence services who have been accused of grave human rights violations.

Several intelligence officers under investigation for alleged abductions, disappearances and extra judicial killings are currently held in detention.

Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers have given approval to draft an act “in order to stop such things happening in future, to safeguard their official responsibilities, to grant them impunity, to give intelligence services legal powers and to deliver their national duties,” government spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena told journalists in Colombo.

The controversial legislation to be named as the ‘National Intelligence Act’ had been proposed by the president’s elder brother and State Minister for Defence Chamal Rajapaksa.

Indemnity Act

In the aftermath of the deadly Easter bombings last year, current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa led a team of wartime military commanders who unsuccessfully demanded impunity for defence officials.

Ex-army and navy commanders who are facing criminal prosecution in Sri Lanka and abroad for gross human rights violations were among the authors of the proposal accepted by then president Maithripala Sirisena.

Sri Lanka has twice legalised impunity.

In 1982 it adopted the Indemnity Act (No. 20 of 1982) restricting legal action against any state official who did not take steps to contain widespread disorder and lawlessness in the country.

Military and police who committed mass atrocities in defeating the Sinhala youth uprising in the late eighties were saved by the Indemnity (Amendment) Act (No. 60 of 1988). The amended act extended immunity from for prosecution for acts 'legal or otherwise' committed by security forces members acting 'in good faith' to preserve public order.

Tamil victims of Sri Lanka's 30 year old war, as well as international watchdogs including the UN have repeatedly urged the government to end its culture of impunity.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.