Continuing culture of impunity: The Karannagoda case | Sunday Observer

Continuing culture of impunity: The Karannagoda case

Since we are also currently discussing the head of expenditure for the Supreme Court, I wish to raise a few points. Last month when we had a debate in Parliament, there were members from both sides who said ‘the Supreme Court is independent now – see how they ruled in November and December’. Therefore, they said ‘we don’t need international judges for accountability.’ They said ‘our judges are independent’, and that has been established. ‘We can go on with any inquiry with regard to war time atrocities by a local judicial system.’

In that debate itself I intervened and said, that may be so when the two contesting parties are two political parties in this country, but when it comes to the State of Sri Lanka and an armed rebel group, the local judiciary will not be independent, and this has been proved yet again, by certain court proceedings that took place last week and have now been terminated. Since the court proceedings have been terminated and the matter is not sub judice, I may speak about it in this House.

I refer to the case of ex-Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda, who filed a petition in the Supreme Court to prevent his arrest.

It has become a joke now that people run to the Supreme Court – they do not go to the Magistrate’s Court where under the Bail Act you can ask for anticipatory bail. This is a new trend now. You go to the apex court of the country and prevent arrest. In this instance, he was named as a suspect in the Magistrate’s Court for having had knowledge of the abduction, disappearance and subsequent killing of 11 Tamil speaking youths in and around Colombo. They had nothing to do with the LTTE.

The point I am trying to make is that even in a case where the abducted persons were not members of the LTTE, had nothing to do with the war, even so, because the suspects were members of an armed force – the Sri Lanka Navy who were running an extortion racket they could not arrest the Nvy Commander. This was abduction and extortion of money for ransom and it was revealed that the Navy Commander at that time knew about it and himself made a complaint to the police – the first complaint was by him. And because he was a war-time Commander, the petition was taken up in the SC that he is a war hero and that he should not be arrested. I wish to ask, if a person had been a Commander of the Armed Forces during the war, does that give him immunity from arrest? I did not see that happening in the case of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.

But here, these were Tamil speaking youth. And they were done to their death in a secret detention camp in Gun Site in the Trincomalee Naval Headquarters. This is known. Several more have been done to their deaths in the naval camp in Trincomalee, for which there is ample evidence. Those may have been members of the LTTE – we haven’t got anywhere on those cases. But here is a case of very young men and their parents who have been looking for them, crying out for justice and then eventually after 10 long years, the machinery moved. But when the investigation came close to a war time Commander, immediately, the whole state apparatus, including the Supreme Court – I repeat including the Supreme Court – has acted in a partisan manner, entirely without justification to prevent his arrest.

In that public forum, in open court, Karannagoda’s lawyer has publicly stated that the Attorney General and the Solicitor General go to the President every day, asking for promotion, and therefore, their view must not be taken into account. And the Additional Solicitor General who appeared for the Attorney General did not even counter that. In fact, the ASG did a somersault when on the previous day he insisted on the arrest. But after this was stated, he agreed that Karannagoda need not be arrested.

Now this shows the partisan manner in which the judiciary, the Attorney General’s Department, function when it comes to such matters. If this is the case with regard to Tamil-speaking youth who were not involved with the LTTE, how much more partisanship would be seen, when it involves the LTTE itself. That is why we insist that the undertakings given to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva must be fulfilled and must be implemented. The Government has given undertakings that with the participation of international judges these accountability issues will be addressed. That must be done. And the Government must cooperate with it. This must be done – it is an obligation undertaken by the Government.

Karannagoda’s Supreme Court case has shown the whole world – and I want the UN Human Rights Council to take note of this – that there will be no justice when it comes to issues such as this. In broad daylight, in open court it was stated by Karannagoda’s lawyer: ‘it was war time, he could have committed any murder, why did he have to complain to the police?’

It was a case of stating the obvious, that any murder went without punishing, would not have been punished, even now has immunity, and that this could have been done with impunity.

[The above is an excerpt of a speech by Tamil National Alliance Lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran in Parliament on March 13, 2019 during the debate on the expenditure heads for the President, Prime Minister, Independent Commissions and the apex courts]

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