Sri Lanka’s top court on Tuesday ruled that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Basil Rajapaksa and other top officials in their government “demonstrably contributed to” last year’s economic crisis that shook the island nation, violating “public trust”.
The three Rajapaksa brothers — who formerly held the positions of President, Prime Minister and Finance Minister respectively — helmed the country from 2019 until they were dislodged from power by a mass people’s uprising in 2022. Citizens took to the streets in staggering numbers against the then ruling clan that they squarely blamed for the country’s unprecedented economic crash, that manifested in acute shortages, drastic price hikes and prolonged power cuts.
“We are of the view that by the actions, omissions, decisions and conduct hereinbefore identified to have demonstrably contributed to the economic crisis,” the Supreme Court said. The respondents “had violated the public trust reposed in them”, it said and held that “they were in breach of the fundamental right to equal protection of the law”. The top court gave the verdict after hearing two fundamental rights petitions from a group of persons, including academics and civil society members.
While the top court identified the role of the Rajapaksa administration in contributing to the grave economic crisis, it deemed that “it would not be appropriate” to order the respondents to pay compensation to the petitioners. “The petitioners…have invoked the fundamental rights jurisdiction of this Court in the interest of the public. We note that none of the petitioners are claiming any loss had impacted on the petitioners on an individual basis, but their assertion is as a result of the conduct of the respondents the entire citizenry had to undergo hardships which could have been avoided,” it noted. “We order however that each petitioner in both applications would be entitled to costs in sum of rupees [LKR] 1,50,000.00 each,” the majority of the five-member bench ruled.
As Sri Lanka witnessed its worst economic crisis since Independence and a historic people’s uprising last year, Gotabaya fled the country. Months later, he returned to Sri Lanka and has been residing in Colombo since. While Mahinda resigned as Premier, he remains as a member of parliament from the country’s ruling party that backs President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Basil resigned from parliament.