Avatar Centre for Policy Alternatives on 22 April, 2020

Fundamental Rights Applications challenging the decision to pardon Sunil Ratnayake

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The Centre for Policy Alternatives v Attorney General  

Fundamental Rights Applications challenging the decision to pardon Sunil Ratnayake

Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu filed Fundamental Rights applications challenging the decision of H.E the President to pardon Sunil Ratnayake, who was convicted for his role in the Mirusuvil Massacre which occurred in December 2000. It was first reported that Ratnayake, who was on death row, had been pardoned by the President on the 26th of March 2020, while the country was grappling with the Covid-19 crisis.

Nine civilians, who were internally displaced persons from Mirusuvil in Jaffna had visited their houses on the 19th of December 2000. The group included several teenagers and a five-year-old child. On their return to their temporary residence, they were stopped by two Military personnel, who proceeded to blindfold and assault the group. One youth was able to escape, but the other eight were massacred, and their bodies were later found buried nearby.  Ratnayake was convicted on several counts of murder and assault by a trial-at-bar in the High Court of Colombo in July 2015, and sentenced to death. Due to several delays, it took almost 13 years to complete the trial.

Ratnayake appealed his sentence in the Supreme Court, and a bench of 5 judges heard his appeal. On the 25th of April 2019, their Lordships’ of the Supreme Court upheld 9 counts on which he was convicted, which included 8 counts of murder. Thus, due process of the law was followed, and the death sentence imposed on Ratnayake was confirmed by the highest court of the land. This was a rare instance, despite the delays, when justice was served for serious violations that occurred during the war years.

Under Article 34 of the Constitution the President has been given the power to grant pardons but several additional procedural steps must be followed when the convict is on death row. Additionally, the President is required to exercise any power reasonably, and in the public interest.

In this case it is the position of the Petitioners that the decision to pardon Ratnayake is arbitrary, unreasonable, ultra vires and has not been done in the interest of the public interest. This is especially so for the reason that Ratnayake was afforded due process, and there was no miscarriage of justice. The Petitioners have also taken up the position that to pardon a convict of a crime of this gravity when 5 judges of the Supreme Court have affirmed his sentence undermines the independence of the Judiciary and is an affront to the rule of law. The pardon is thus a violation of the sovereignty of the people, and the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 12(1) of the Constitution.