Impeachment a calamitous setback for rule of law in Lanka: Pillay

Saturday, 19 January 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Raises questions about Mohan Peiris’ independence and impartiality in handing HR violations by authorities
  • UNHRC Head to issue report on Sri Lanka at UNHRC sessions in Feb
  • Says Lanka has a long history of abuse of executive power


By Dharisha Bastians

The removal of the Chief Justice through a flawed process that has been deemed unconstitutional by the highest courts of the land is gross interference in the independence of the Judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navenetham Pillay said yesterday.

A release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that Pillay was “deeply concerned” that the impeachment and removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake had further eroded the rule of law in Sri Lanka and could also set back efforts for accountability and reconciliation.

“Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was served notice of her dismissal and removed from her chambers and official residence on Tuesday (15 January), in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that the parliamentary procedure to remove her violated the Constitution,” the High Commissioner’s office said.

Issuing a scathing attack on the newly-appointed Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, Pillay’s office said that his appointment raises obvious concerns about his independence and impartiality, especially when handling allegations of serious human rights violations by the authorities.

“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,” the Office of the High Commissioner explained.

The release said that 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.

Pillay said that the UN was also concerned that the impeachment had caused bitter divisions within Sri Lanka and 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,” her office added.

The Office of the High Commissioner noted that it had received alarming reports yesterday morning from the independent Bar of Sri Lanka of a series of death threats and 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”.

The High Commissioner will be issuing a report on Sri Lanka at the February-March session of the Human Rights Council, focusing on the engagement of UN mechanisms in support of the accountability and reconciliation processes, Pillay’s office said.

The next session of the UN Human Rights Council opens on 25 February in Geneva. Last year, the Council adopted a resolution sponsored by the US demanding that Sri Lanka take urgent steps to deal with its post-conflict reconciliation and accountability issues. Sri Lanka hosted an advance team of the Human Rights Commissioner late last year. Pillay was also expected to visit the island before March 2013 but the visit did not materialise despite an invitation from the Sri Lankan Government.

Analysts say the impeachment of the Chief Justice and other serious human rights violations and a lack of progress in implementing the recommendations of the LLRC report is likely to put Sri Lanka back in the hot seat in Geneva when the sessions open this year.