FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2007
A Statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
SRI LANKA: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
The following is a statement delivered on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre supported by the Law society and Trust, Sri Lanka at 5th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
June 11th 2007 5th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Oral Intervention of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong supported by the Law and Society Trust, Sri Lanka
Speaker: Ms. Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena
Thank you Mr. President,
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) welcomes the report presented by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and regrets that despite a request to visit Sri Lanka having been made, no response from the government appears to have been forthcoming to date.
The ALRC remains deeply concerned about the deterioration of the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.
Is the Rapporteur aware of the serious concerns raised internationally and domestically about the insulation of the Supreme Court from political control since the appointment of the incumbent Chief Justice in 1999?
The politicization of the office of Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice has had a direct impact on the prevalence of human rights violations as a result of the continuing conflict in the country between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Arbitrary transfers of magistrates in high profile cases of extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances (such as the execution of 17 aid workers of Action Contre La Faim in Mutur in August 2006) have raised serious doubts about the impartial quality of justice in Sri Lanka.
Magisterial efforts to expose and punish serious crimes by agents of the State are not met with the requisite judicial support; instead, they face removal from such controversial cases and professional exile. Such arbitrary power exercised by the Chief Justice has made it difficult for independent-minded judges to serve on the Supreme Court itself, although some individual judges have attempted to function according to their constitutional mandate to protect rights.
Is the Special Rapporteur concerned by the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in the Sinharasa Case, which ruled that Sri Lanka’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allowing the right of individual communications before the UN Human Rights Committee was unconstitutional?
What measures does the Special Rapporteur propose in order to ensure the independent functioning of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court and Judicial Service Commission (JSC)? Since 2006, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the body that is vested with the task of transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of all minor judges and which is headed by the Chief Justice with two other judges of the Supreme Court, have been acting unconstitutionally.
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 2001, required the appointment of the members of the JSC to be approved by an apolitical Constitutional Council, however, the president and parliament have failed to put the Council in place in its second term. Instead, the two members of the JSC have been appointed directly by the President resulting in the entire body being unconstitutional. Similar unconstitutional appointments were made by the president to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. There is a crisis of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
Is the Special Rapporteur aware of the Sri Lankan government’s failure to implement a Human Rights Committee recommendation for the enactment of a Contempt of Court Act? Contempt powers continue to “chill” freedom of expression of the media, lawyers and ordinary citizens.
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About ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at local and national levels throughout Asia.