SRI LANKA: Will not the UN resist authoritarian actions in Sri Lanka to bypass the Constitutional provisions in order to make appointments to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal and several vital independent institutions?

The Asian Human Rights Commission has previously informed you about the controversy that started when the Executive President bypassed the constitutional provision requiring the appointments of judges in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal and members of several important, independent commissions such as the National Police Commission, Public Service Commission and Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to be SELECTED ONLY THROUGH THE CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL in order to limit the power of the president to make appointments.

The Constitutional provision was created in 2001 as a remedy to the process of politicisation, which had taken place over two decades and which threatened the collapse of all independent institutions.  Now this constitutional provision has been bypassed by the president who simply does not have the authority to do so.

Apart from the information which we have sent to you we believe that the UN agencies in the country and in particular, a senior country advisor on human rights matters would have kept you informed about these developments.  There is a large amount of literature available from various quarters published in the newspapers protesting such moves and these include the Attorney General of the country giving legal opinion against it and also the European Union objecting to the contravening of this basic constitutional provision.

On such a vital issue as this it is quite normal for people in Sri Lanka and the human rights community in particular, to expect that your office will also make its intervention on this matter.

A lesson that needs to be learned from many countries where human rights movements and UN human rights agencies work towards the improvement of human rights, is that the measures that undermine the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary fundamentally undermines human rights.  In your recent visit to Cambodia you spoke on this matter with particularly emphasis also on the situation of the courts.

Sri Lanka before 1978 had an independent system of judiciary and the serious undermining of it started then.  However, no negative move went as far as direct appointments by the president in contravention of the Constitution as has happened within the last two weeks.  If no resistance is made at the time of threats to judicial institutions, no amount of condemnation later will be able to save the rights of the people and the independence of the institutions.  It is due to this fact that we urge you to take up this matter as a primary concern of human rights in Sri Lanka.

We also appreciate your recent statement against the increase of killings in the country.  However, the situation of this escalation of violence is also the result, not only of the ‘ethnic conflict’ but also the undermining of the democratic process in the entire country, over a period of three decades.  Besides conflict related killings, Sri Lanka is also known now for the collapse of law and order, which is admitted by the leading police officers as well as the government and opposition.  Behind all this is an institutional collapse.  This will be much worsened if the bypassing of the Constitution continues in the manner in which it is happening now.  We hope your office will exert its influence in order to reverse this tragic situation.

We enclose the seven statements our organisation has published within the last week when we declared seven days of mourning against executive interference in the judiciary and other independent institutions.  We also enclose a letter written to the chief of the UNDP and the European Union in Sri Lanka on the occasion of such appointments being made to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director

cc: Rory Mungoven – senior country advisor on human rights, UNDP, Sri Lanka

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-016-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : International human rights mechanisms, Judicial system,