Intervene now: ALRC appeals to Navi Pillay

Monday, 7 January 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Notes that SC ruling on impeachment process echoes concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of judges and lawyers
  • The Asian Legal Resource Centre tells the UN Human Rights Commissioner that condemnation post-impeachment will not repair damage done
  • Says CJ to be removed from office by force
  • Warns of arbitrary arrests and disappearances of civil society opposing the impeachment

Hong Kong based regional rights group, the Asian Legal Resource Centre yesterday urged UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navinetham Pillay to intervene to prevent the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in Sri Lanka in order to prevent the country from losing its rule of law and democratic traditions.

Calling the impeachment of Bandaranayake by the Sri Lankan Government in the coming week an ‘impending catastrophe,” ALRC Executive Director Bijo Francis urged High Commissioner Pillay to “intervene with the Government of Sri Lanka and make use of all the powers that your mandate warrants and could exercise”.

Lending its voice to growing international condemnation of the impeachment process undertaken by the Sri Lankan Government to oust Bandaranayake from office, the ALRC states that this will be a decisive moment which “if not prevented at all costs, will result in the collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.”

“The ALRC expects that the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to have within their means and the capacity for immediate intervention, when a situation arises in a country where irreparable loss will be caused to all previous work done to promote and protect human rights due to political actions a Government has launched against independent institutions in that country. If no actions were taken now, no amount of condemnations later would help repair the damage,” the rights group said.

The ALRC notes with concern that the Sri Lankan Government will resort to serious human rights abuses in order to silence lawyers, judges and civil society who are opposed to the impeachment of Bandaranayake.

“Illegal arrest, arbitrary detentions and fabrication of charges of innocent individuals are likely. The ALRC is certain that your office is aware about Sri Lanka’s historic background involving forced disappearances, which the ALRC fears would be repeated under the present circumstances,” the letter states.

In his letter to High Commissioner Pillay, Francis notes that it was likely a rare moment during her term in office, when a country was losing its democratic traditions through an entirely parliamentary process. “In Sri Lanka this is what might happen within the next five days,” the letter warns.

Francis informs the Human Rights Commissioner that the Sri Lankan Government would be proceeding with the impeachment on the basis of a report filed by a 11 member parliamentary select committee that has been declared illegitimate by the Supreme Court and called into question by the UN’s own Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers as violating the separation of powers doctrine and the independence of the Judiciary.  “This coming week therefore is crucial. The Government’s proposal for removal of the Chief Justice, if proceeded with will essentially lead to a direct confrontation of the Executive and the Parliament with the Supreme Court,” the letter states.

Francis says that the appointment of a new Chief Justice who will be under the thumb of the Government will prove a serious threat to the rule of law, independence of the Judiciary, and separation of powers concepts. “Should such an environment prevail… it is obvious that the Government will take steps to arrest and otherwise illegally deal with anyone of their choice in the country, including the judges and lawyers,” he writes.  “In our view, the result of all this will be the reduction of Sri Lanka’s Judiciary to become a mere administrative body without judicial authority or independence that is required to uphold the rule of law or to protect the rights of the individuals. The judiciaries in Cambodia and Burma in the region are examples to this situation,” the ALRC letter to Pillay says. Sri Lanka has already been flagged at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, headed by Pillay, which adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka last March for dragging its feet on post-war accountability and reconciliation issues.