Sri Lanka gearing towards legalizing impunity for gross human rights violations

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Armed with a two-thirds majority in the parliament, the Sri Lankan government is aiming to legalize impunity, which takes the country further away from delivering justice to victims of crimes committed by the state.

Acting on a presidential directive approved by the cabinet of ministers, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has tabled a motion seeking parliament authorisation to withdraw scores of ongoing court cases filed against military men including officers, Rajapaksa family members and key players of the ruling party. Furthermore, punitive action is to be taken against officials who investigated the cases.

Several army and navy men who have been charged in cases identified by the UN as ‘emblematic’ will go scot-free once the PM’s motion becomes law. These cases include the abduction, torture and killing of 11 males, the abduction and disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, the killing of journalist Lasantha Wickremetunge, the abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyahr and the assassination of Parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj. They have all been committed outside the theatre of war.

Lawyers vow to resist

These gross human rights violations were committed when the current head of state was the very powerful defence secretary under the presidency of his brother, the present PM. Due to international pressure and the perseverance of family members of the victims, cases were filed in court against army and navy officials including the country’s topmost naval commander Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has said that it will “firmly resist any attempt to use the said Motion to withdraw any criminal action pending before a court of law”.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the cabinet of ministers on January 15, 2021 to implement decisions and recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Political Victimization. It has recommended to withdraw the cases against many military officers who have pending court cases for alleged gross human rights violations.

Those recommendations are now being debated in the parliament, which will go on for two days.

Legalising impunity

The Commission was appointed to “investigate and inquire into and obtain information in relation to alleged victimizations of public officers, employees of public corporations and members of armed forces and police service who were holding posts” when the former government was in power.

Its 2000 plus page final report presented to the president in December 2020. It argued that the arrest and prosecution of military men was a concerted effort to punish “war heroes who saved the country from 30 years of terrorism”.

The current president himself has been consistently pushing to legalise impunity for Sri Lanka's military officials who are yet to be held accountable for allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the aftermath of the deadly Easter bombings two years ago Gotabaya Rajapaksa was joined by wartime military commanders to prepare a report, which proposed impunity for security officials.

One of its co-authors, Admiral of the Fleet, Former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda is also named to be acquitted from charges related to the abduction, torture, and disappearance of 11 males in 2008-09. Alongside the ex-navy chief, Rear Admiral D.K.P Dassanayake, Commander Sumith Ranasinghe, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Chandana Kumara Hettiarachchi who are charged in the same case will be acquitted once the PMs motion becomes law.

Two other navy officers Lieutenant Commander M.M Dhammika Anil Mapa and Lieutenant Commander S.Don Sumedha Sampath Dayananda who have been charged for the abduction and disappearance of two Tamils in the Colombo district are also recommended to be acquitted.

The CoI has recommended to acquit the following military intelligence officers charged for the abduction and disappearance of Carton Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda in 2010.

Lieutenant Colonel Shammi Arjuna Kumararatne, R.M.P Kumara Rajapaksa alias Corporal Nathan, Wadugedara Vinnie Priyantha Dilanjan Upasena alias Suresh, Seneviratne Mudiyanselage Ravindra Rupasena alias Corporal Ranji, Yapa Mudiyanselage Chaminda Kumara Abeyratne, Seneviratne Mudiyanselage Kanishka Gunaratne, Aiyasami Balasubramaniam, Dangaha Gamaralalage Tharanga Prasad Gamage, Telge Eranda Radish Peiris, S.A Hemachandra Perera, Thantulage Toshinath Prabodha Siriwardena, M.P.G Wasantha Sudesh Kumara Ulugedara and Henadheera Arachchige Hemachandra Perera.

Rajapaksa family members

Some of those named above have been charged with the abduction of the journalist at an earlier time.

All 14 suspects in the abduction of Journalist Keith Noyahr in 2008 named below will also be acquitted when the parliament approves the motion.

Major General Kuruppu Achchige Dhammika Amal Karunasekara, Lieutenant Colonel D.W.D.M R.P.S Bandara Dissanayaka Bulathwatte, Commissioned Officer Atapattu Hunkiri Arachchige Lasantha Wimalaweera, Staff Sergeant Senadheera Arachchige Hemachandra Perera, Staff Sergeant Uyange Prabhath Duminda Weeraratne, Corporal Pedige Nishantha Kumara, Staff Sergeant Sri Narayana Mudiyanselage Chandrabaya Jayasuriya, Staff Sergeant Godellawatta Arachchige Chamika Sumith, Staff Sergeant Galbindina Elegedara Priyantha Kumara Somasuriya, Staff Sergeant Hitihami Mudiyanselage Nishantha Jayatilleke and Commissioned Officer Rajapaksage Lalith Rajapaksa.

The CoI has recommended to acquit the following as well.

Former Additional Defence Secretary DM Samansiri Dissanayake, Former Senior Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Defence DM Sujatha Damayanthi Jayaratne, Major Nissanka yapa Senadhipathi, Major General Palitha Fernando and Victor Samaraweera who are suspects in a case known as the Avant Garde case, which involves floating armories and millions in briberies.

Navy intelligence officer Deliwalagedara Gamini Seneviratne and intelligence officer Kankanamge Pradeep Chaminda implicated in the 2006 killing of Tamil National Alliance MP Nadarajah Raviraj.

Rajapaksa family members, Basil Rajapaksa, Yoshitha Kanishka Rajapaksa, Udayanga Weeratunga, Jaliya Chithran Wickremasuriya and Thirukumar Nadesan as well as ruling party MP Udaya Prabhath Gammanpila will also walk away from bribery and corruption cases involving millions once the motion is adopted as law.

Duminda Silva

Arumadura Lawrence Romelo Duminda Silva,  a former Member of Parliament currently in the death raw for the murder of his party colleague Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra in 2011, is another Rajapaksa loyalist waiting to walk free with the passage of the bill. 

The bill also seeks parliamentary approval to review the continuation of cases against Moses Rangajeewa Neomal and Lamahewage Emil Ranjan who are suspects in the Welikada prison massacre of 2012.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) warned that the bill becoming law “would be inimical to the Doctrine of Separation of Powers and an affront to the Rule of Law, the independence of the Judiciary and would set a very bad and unhealthy precedent with regard to due process”.

“The Executive Committee of the BASL is of the opinion that the said Motion even if passed, would and should have no effect or influence on any Court of law or on the Department of the Hon. Attorney General or on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption,” said a statement signed by BASL Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya.

Pledging to firmly resist any attempt to use the controversial motion to withdraw any criminal action pending before a court of law, the BASL urged PM Mahinda Rajapaksa from pursuing with the said motion.



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.