US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO2149

High profile court case against former defense minister, a relative of the president, moves forward

Identifier: 02COLOMBO2149
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO2149 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-11-19 11:28:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PHUM PINR CE Human Rights Political Parties Elections
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 002149 
E.O. 12958:  DECL: 11-19-02 
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PINR, CE, Human Rights, Political Parties, Elections 
SUBJECT:  High profile court case against former defense 
minister, a relative of the president, moves forward 
Refs:  Colombo 1427, and previous 
(U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  Anuruddha Ratwatte, a former defense 
minister and relative of the president, was formally 
indicted on November 15 for the December 2001 murder of 
ten Muslim campaign workers.  Observers portray the case 
as an example of the government's commitment to 
overcoming a history of impunity for well-known 
personalities.  The case also highlights the spectacular 
fall from grace of someone who was once one of Sri 
Lanka's most important men.  END SUMMARY. 
2. (SBU) A high profile court case involving Anuruddha 
Ratwatte, a former defense minister and a close relative 
of President Kumaratunga, commenced under a specially 
constituted trial-at-bar on November 15, 2002.  (Note: 
A trial-at-bar replaces a jury with three high court 
judges who will hear the case.  The decision to use a 
trial-at-bar is intended to accelerate the hearing and 
to prevent undue influence of jurors.)  Ratwatte, his 
two sons Chanuka and Lohan, and 11 others were indicted 
on charges of murder, conspiracy and unlawful assembly. 
The indictments stem from the December 5, 2001, election 
day murder of 10 campaign workers working for the Sri 
Lanka Muslim Congress.  The incident took place just 
outside of Kandy in the central Sri Lankan village of 
Udathalawinna.  Ratwatte and 12 of the other men 
indicted, including his two sons, were each released on 
payment of bail of Sri Lankan Rupees 500,000 (almost USD 
5,400) (one defendant did not receive bail).  (Note: 
Ratwatte was briefly jailed earlier this year in this 
case, but was released after two months upon payment of 
bail -- See Reftels.  He spent most of that time in a 
prison hospital.) 
3. (C) Commenting on the case, Kethesh Logananthan, of 
the Center for Policy Alternatives, a local think tank, 
told us that the indictments were a sign of the 
government's effort to overcome a history of impunity 
for politicians.  Desmond Fernando, a respected human 
rights attorney, concurred with that assessment.  He 
stressed that the government had encouraged a thorough 
investigation and that the police and Attorney General's 
office have been able to develop a case against the 
defendants based on law and not politics.  (Note:  In 
the past, many members of the People's Alliance, 
Ratwatte's party, have claimed that Ratwatte's trial is 
political in nature, despite strong evidence to the 
4. (C) Other contacts were more reserved in their 
praise.  While noting that the GSL's efforts seemed 
positive as of this point, M.C.M. Iqbal, a consultant to 
the GSL's Human Rights Commission, said he was concerned 
that the government might drop the case in the end due 
to political pressure.  Iqbal said he believed that the 
government was partially forced into pushing the case 
due to the pressure from the Muslim community.  (Note: 
The murders sparked demonstrations by Muslims throughout 
Sri Lanka after the December election and led to several 
days of nationwide curfews.)  In addition, he thought 
there was a chance that Ratwatte would not be found 
guilty.  Iqbal said he believed that the eyewitness 
accounts should be enough to convict the men that 
actually pulled the triggers and Ratwatte's sons, but 
that the government may not be able to prove the 
conspiracy that the elder Ratwatte is accused of. 
5. (C) COMMENT:  It is positive that the government is 
moving forward with the case.  In the past, many cases 
involving high profile personalities in Sri Lanka have 
been dropped.  In this case, the GSL seems intent on 
trying to overcome its culture of impunity.  Regardless 
of the outcome, if the case is decided on legal merit 
alone -- and it appears that the case against Ratwatte 
may be difficult to prove -- it is a positive step in 
combating impunity. 
6.  (C) The case also highlights the spectacular fall 
from grace of someone who was once one of Sri Lanka's 
most important men.  Throughout much of the 1990's, 
Ratwatte -- working closely with President Kumaratunga 
-- was in charge of the military effort against the 
Tamil Tigers.  In that role, aside from a decidedly 
mixed record in the conflict with the Tigers, Ratwatte 
was often accused of overlooking human rights violations 
by his troops and enriching himself at government 
expense.  He was also Kumaratunga's premier political 
strategist, a role he can no longer fulfill because of 
the court case.  END COMMENT. 

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