Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sri Lanka: Removal of Chief Justice ‘calamitous setback’ for rule of law in Sri Lanka

UN - 18 January 2013 – The United Nations human rights chief today spoke out against the impeachment and removal of Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice, saying it is a “calamitous setback” for rule of law in the South Asian nation, as well as for accountability and reconciliation.

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was served notice of her dismissal and removed from her chambers and official residence on Tuesday, in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that the parliamentary procedure to remove her violated the Constitution, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The removal of the Chief Justice through a flawed process – which has been deemed unconstitutional by the highest courts of the land – is, in the High Commissioner’s view, gross interference in the independence of the judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for High Commissioner Navi Pillay, told reporters in Geneva.

“Sri Lanka has a long history of abuse of executive power, and this latest step appears to strip away one of the last and most fundamental of the independent checks and balances, and should ring alarm bells for all Sri Lankans,” he added.

Mr. Colville noted that the jurist sworn in by the President as the new Chief Justice this week, the former Attorney-General and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet, Mohan Peiris, has been at the forefront of a number of government delegations to Geneva in recent years to vigorously defend the Sri Lankan Government’s position before the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms.

“This raises obvious concerns about his independence and impartiality, especially when handling allegations of serious human rights violations by the authorities,” said Mr. Colville.

OHCHR is also concerned that the impeachment process has caused bitter divisions within Sri Lanka, and that it sends an “ominous signal” about the Government’s commitment to accountability and reconciliation.

“It flies in the face of the strong calls by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, and by leaders of Sri Lanka’s civil society and legal profession, to rebuild the rule of law which has been badly eroded by decades of conflict and human rights violations,” Mr. Colville stated.

He added that the Office has received alarming reports from the Independent Bar of Sri Lanka of a series of death threats, acts of intimidation and even a couple of reported murder attempts against lawyers who have been supporting Chief Justice Bandaranayake, and the rulings of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal on her case.