“Over the past four decades, the people of Sri Lanka have suffered a great deal due to the armed conflict, economic and political instability, and gross violations of human rights. Canada is steadfast in its support to attain peace, reconciliation, justice and accountability on the island. Canada has taken decisive action today to end international impunity against violators of international law. Canada stands ready to support Sri Lanka’s path to peace, inclusion and prosperity through the advancement of accountability, reconciliation and human rights, including international assistance to address the domestic crisis.”
– Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs
History was made last week when two former executive presidents of Sri Lanka were sanctioned by the Government of Canada. One was Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa known as Gota who was the President of Sri Lanka from Nov 2019 to July 2022. Gota also served as secretary of Defence from Nov 2005 to January 2015. The other was Gota’s elder brother Mahendra Percy Rajapaksa known as Mahinda who was President of Sri Lanka from Nov 2005 to Jan 2015. Mahinda also served as Sri Lanka’s prime minister thrice from April 2004 -Nov 2005,October 2018-December 2018 and Nov 2019 to May 2022.
This is the first time two former Sri Lankan heads of State have been at the receiving end of targeted sanctions from Canada. It is doubtful as to whether both would have been sanctioned if they were in office. Another point to ponder is whether Ottawa would have sanctioned Gotabaya if he continued to retain his US citizenship.
Along with the Rajapaksa brothers, two defence services personnel were also sanctioned under Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) RegulationsThey were Lt.Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi of the Sri Lankan Navy and former staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake of the Lankan Army. Both Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake and Lt.Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi have also been sanctioned by the US State Dept earlier.
What is of significance here is that a former President cum defence secretary, an ex-president cum Prime minister, a former Army staff sgt and a Navy Lt.Commander have all been grouped together and sanctioned. This lays emphasis on the legal doctrine of command responsibility. It also demonstrates that all those charged with alleged human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity are equal in the sight of international humanitarian law.
The rationale adopted by Canada in grouping the two Rajapaksas along with “ army” Ratnayake and “navy” Hettiarachchi for sanctions is outlined in a “backgrounder”put out by officials in Ottawa. This is what it says –
“Gross and systematic human rights violations occurred during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict (1983-2009). Systemic impunity for human rights abusers in Sri Lanka continues to jeopardize the safeguarding of fundamental human rights, progress on justice for affected populations, and prospects for peace and reconciliation. The Govt of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has taken limited concrete action to address post-conflict accountability and reconciliation. Due to political interference, particularly during the terms of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, numerous current and former state officials credibly implicated in war crimes have had charges against them arbitrarily dropped or convictions overturned. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international community, including Canada, have consistently advocated for the protection of fundamental human rights and an end to impunity.”
The key sentences in the above paragraph that explain why the two Rajapaksas are linked to Ratnayake and Hettiarachchi are excerpted here. “Due to political interference, particularly during the terms of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, numerous current and former state officials credibly implicated in war crimes have had charges against them arbitrarily dropped or convictions overturned.”
What are the alleged acts of omission and commission concerning Sunil Ratnayake and Chandana Hettiarachchi?
According to various media reports Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was sentenced to death in 2015 for the murder of 8 Tamils, including 3 children, in the town of Mirusuvil in Jaffna on December 20, 2000. The following day, their bodies were found in a mass grave with their throats slashed, according to the District Medical Officer’s post-mortem report. All but two of the bodies had been stripped naked. The youngest to have been murdered was a 5-year-old child. The killings have been described as the “Mirusuvil massacre”.
After a lengthy court process only Ratnayake, a member of the military’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015. The conviction and death sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2019.But the then Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned Sunil Ratnayake as he had promised in his election manifesto that he would free “war heroes languishing in prison over false charges and cases”.
The International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) then stated d that Ratnayake’s pardon cast “serious doubt” upon the Govt’s commitment to accountability and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific said: “Such a pardon is incompatible with international standards relating to impunity and access to justice, and reinforces the well-founded public perception that the military is exempt from any form of accountability, even for the most heinous crimes”.
Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi
According to media reports ,Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi also known as “Navy Sampath” is a Sri Lankan naval intelligence officer who was allegedly part of a 14-member gang of navy men who had abducted kids of wealthy Colombo families for ransom.. All 11 victims in the Trincomalee case were abducted in Colombo between August 25, 2008 and February 2009 and held for ransom at navy bases in Colombo and Trincomalee, before being presumably murdered.
Hettiarachchi had been allegedly involved in the killing of former Jaffna district MP N.Raviraj in 2006. He was arrested over the Trincomalee abductions in 2018 and released on bail. He jumped bail and was arrested again. On Dec 31 2019, he got bail for a second time. At least two former Navy commanders were mplicated in the Chandana Hettiarachchi affair.
Sanctioned on Jan 6 2023
It is against this backdrop that the Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) Regulations came into force in Canada on January 6, 2023,. The Regulations included a list of names of four individuals for whom the Governor in Council considered that there were reasonable grounds to have engaged in activities that constitute gross and systematic human rights violations.What then is the scale and scope of targeted sanctions of Gota Rajapaksa,Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sunil Ratnayake and Chandana Hettiarachchi by Canada?
A media release issued by Canada’s Global Affairs ministry on 10 January 2023 under the heading “Sanctions imposed on Sri Lankan state officials” stated as follows –
“Canada is imposing sanctions against the following individuals who committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, which occurred from 1983 to 2009.”
“The Special Economic Measures (Sri Lanka) Regulations impose on listed persons a prohibition on any transaction (effectively, an asset freeze) by prohibiting persons in Canada and Canadians outside Canada from engaging in any activity related to any property of these listed persons or providing financial or related services to them.”
“The individuals listed in the Schedule to the Regulations are also rendered inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”
“The specific prohibitions are set out in the Regulations.The names of the individuals added to the Schedule of the Regulations are the following:
• Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
• Former President Mahinda Rajapaksasa
• Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake
• Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi
Canada’s solitary MP of Sri Lankan origin Gary Anandasangaree hailed the sanctions as historic by tweeting as follows – “As part of a historic decision, Minister M elanie joly has announced that Canada has imposed sanctions on the Rajapaksa brothers, along with two other state officials for their involvement in gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Gary is the son of former Kilinochchi and Jaffna MP Veerasingham Anandasangaree. Gary is the member of Parliament representing the Scarborough—Rouge Park constituency in Ontario.He also serves as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in the Liberal party Govt headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Meanwhile another Canadian MP James Maloney oaid his parliamentary colleague Gary a compliment by tweeting as follows –“Incredibly important, Canada has offered significant assistance to Sri Lanka as they grapple with a crisis of their former leaders’ creation. I am proud of the advocacy of my friend Gary to ensure that we not only help, but also hold those responsible to account.”. Maloney is the MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore in Ontarion.
Sri Lanka Protests
On 11 Jan. Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry summoned the Canadian acting High Commissioner in Colombo Daniel Bood, to officially register Sri Lanka’s strong protest against the Canadian govt’s action. A communique from the Foreign ministry stated as follows –
“Foreign Minister Ali Sabry summoned the Canadian Acting High Commissioner Daniel Bood to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today (11 January), and expressed the deep regret of the Government on the announcement of unilateral sanctions brought by the Government of Canada against four individuals including two former Presidents of Sri Lanka based on unsubstantiated allegations.”
“Foreign Minister Sabry emphasized that such unilateral action by the Canadian Government, motivated by domestic political compulsions in Canada, sets a dangerous precedent and is inimical to Sri Lanka’s interests, especially when national unity and reconciliation are of paramount importance. It was also stressed that the announcement by Canada is detrimental to the Government’s ongoing efforts towards national unity, reconciliation, and stability.”
“In consideration of the longstanding bilateral and development partnership between Canada and Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Sabry urged the Acting High Commissioner to review the decision and engage constructively with Sri Lanka.”
There has been no formal response from Gota or Mahinda Rajapaksa so far to the sanctions. But Mahinda’s eldest son and Hambantota district MP Namal Rajapaksa took to twitter and lashed out. “The LTTE recruited child-soldiers,indiscriminately killed civilians & govt officials from all ethnicities. #LKA endured this atrocity for 3 decades! While #Canada has a sovereign right to decide, it’s sad to see dbl standards & hidden agendas when assessing facts” tweeted Namal.
Let me conclude by reproducing a second media release issued by Canada’s Global Affairs ministry on 10 January 2023 under the heading “Canada imposes sanctions on Sri Lankan state officials for human rights violations”. This places in perspective the sanctions imposed by Canada and Ottawa’s future course of action vis a vis Sri Lanka. The official communique stated as follows –
“The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today announced Canada imposes targeted sanctions under regulations pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act against four Sri Lankan state officials responsible for gross and systematic violations of human rights during armed conflict in Sri Lanka, which occurred from 1983 to 2009.”
“The regulations pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act impose on listed persons a dealings prohibition, which would effectively freeze any assets they may hold in Canada and render them inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”
“Despite continued calls from Canada and the international community to address accountability, the Government of Sri Lanka has taken limited meaningful and concrete action to uphold its human rights obligations. This jeopardizes progress on justice for affected populations, and prospects for peace and reconciliation.”
“Victims and survivors of gross human rights violations deserve justice. That is why Canada continues to call on Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment establish a meaningful accountability process.”
Clear Message to Sri Lanka
“These sanctions send a clear message that Canada will not accept continued impunity for those that have committed gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka.”
“Canada will continue to collaborate alongside international partners, including through relevant multilateral bodies to advocate for human rights and accountability in Sri Lanka, which is an important step toward securing a safe, peaceful and inclusive future for the country. Canada, as part of the Core Group on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council will continue to advocate for the full implementation of resolution 51/1 and support efforts towards attaining accountability and peace on the island.”
“Canada supports efforts towards urgent political and economic reforms to alleviate the hardships faced by the people in Sri Lanka. We strongly encourage the Sri Lankan government to promote democracy, human rights and maintain the rule of law as it works to address this crisis.”
“In addition to today’s announcement, and in response to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, Canada announced $3 million to the appeals launched by the United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to address immediate needs, including food security and livelihoods, shelter and non-food items, as well as nutritional assistance and primary healthcare services for vulnerable children and women. Canada has also readjusted ongoing international assistance projects to address pressing needs, providing support, for instance, to the World Health Organization for the procurement of essential medical equipment and supplies.”
• Canada regularly expresses concerns on issues related to accountability and the advancement of human rights with senior Sri Lankan officials.
• Through support provided to various non-governmental organizations, Canada continues to help advance human rights in Sri Lanka, including in such areas as language rights and the rights of women and girls, among others.
• Canada has been working closely with its like-minded partners, including as a member of the Core Group on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council since 2018, and will continue to do so. Canada is committed to continuing its collaboration and advocacy alongside our international partners.
• Together with core group members, Canada is pleased to have led the adoption of the resolution on Sri Lanka at HRC Session 51 in September/October 2022 underscoring the ongoing international commitment to the advancement of meaningful progress on reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
• Canada is closely monitoring the evolving humanitarian situation and has provided support to Sri Lanka to help address immediate food and medical needs.
• Canadian assistance in Sri Lanka is helping to procure emergency medical supplies and medicines, and to provide nutritious school meals for vulnerable primary school children.(ENDS)
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an updated version of an article appearing in the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” of the “Daily Mirror”dated 14 January 2023.It can be accessed here –