Gota returns to impunity

Monday, 5 September 2022 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Ousted president Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned to Sri Lanka over the weekend. After fleeing the country like a thief in the night, he moved from country to country seeking asylum and a safe haven. After fleeing to the Maldives in an air force plane in the early hours of 12 July he flew to Singapore a few days later and eventually ended up in Thailand. It is reported that his Thai visa was secured with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Government. 

Upon return to the country the former president was received at the airport by several high-profile figures including the Minister in charge of law and order. He is now to be given a bungalow at the expense of the taxpayer with a security detail.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is responsible for the total economic collapse of Sri Lanka and rendering the country bankrupt. Due to his economic policies, Sri Lanka for the first time in its history recorded a sovereign default in April 2022 making the currency worthless in international monetary markets. Further the ill-advised fertiliser ban has devastated the agricultural sector and diminished food security. Corruption and financial crimes were also rampant during his short two-year administration that ensured the complete and utter collapse of the economy. To date, no official or policymaker has been held accountable for the economic collapse nor are there any moves to do so. The man mostly responsible for delivering misery to millions of Sri Lankans, has now come back to become a further burden to the people.

In addition to corruption and economic mismanagement, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands accused of some of the most heinous crimes committed in this country. He has been accused of involvement of war crimes, including the killing of surrendered combatants and civilians and the killing, abduction and torture of journalists, activists, combatants and political 


While there was some progress in the investigations into his crimes during the Yahapalana regime, most of these cases were deliberately stalled either through political deal making, interference into investigations by the Police and prosecutions by the Attorney General’s department and more alarmingly through manipulation of the judiciary. Judges hearing his cases deliberately stalled judicial processes and on one such instance a judge recused herself, stating a conflict of interest, after stalling the process for several years. This judge was later given a plum position within the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration.

There is no doubt that former president Rajapaksa, as any Sri Lankan, has a right to return to his own country. Despite him denying this right to many others he should not be subjected to such violation. However, it is apparent that with his return any chance of holding him accountable for his numerous crimes will also diminish. The Sri Lankan judiciary and the executive branch has proven that they are unable and unwilling to address serious crimes committed by individuals such as Rajapaksa.

In a matter of days, the UN Human Rights Council is expected to present a resolution that will extend the mandate of an international mechanism established in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect and preserve evidence on serious crimes concerning human rights and humanitarian law violations that have taken place in Sri Lanka. This mechanism gives hope to tens of thousands of victims who have not obtained justice through the Sri Lankan judiciary. 

Despite the Sri Lankan judiciary and the executive branch extending immunity to the likes of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, such international actions will keep the hopes of justice alive for the victims. If Sri Lanka wishes to avoid such international legal mechanisms it must demonstrate that its judicial system can address violations domestically. There is no better point to start than with the former Head of State.