SRI LANKA: Protesting your recognition of new commissioners of Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing to protest the list of new members appointed to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, posted on your website. Your recognition of the new commissioners is a betrayal of the Sri Lankan human rights movement and of national human rights institutions worldwide.

You are fully aware that the appointments to Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission were made unconstitutionally; the Constitution of Sri Lanka requires the selection of commissioners to be done by the Constitutional Council, on the basis of merit. In this way, individuals’ ability to uphold the Paris Principles and other standards upon which national human rights institutions are based would be assessed. The establishment of the Constitutional Council falls under the 17th Amendment, the primary aim of which is to avoid political appointments at all public institutions.

The individuals who now hold posts in the Human Rights Commission, as well as other public institutions, have been directly chosen by the Sri Lankan government, bypassing a constitutional provision which prohibits such a choice. You will also be aware that one of the nominees, attorney-at-law Mr S G Punchihewa, refused to accept the post of commissioner, which he only found out about when his name appeared in the media. He was the only nominated person with a positive human rights record. However, the notice issued in your website gives the impression that these commissioners were selected through a legal process.

Sri Lanka at present has no Human Rights Commission to protect and promote human rights. Instead, the current Commission’s function is to defend Sri Lanka’s human rights record against all criticism. Your organisation should be challenging why funding received from foreign donors for the protection and promotion of human rights is being used instead to deny human rights violations. 
It is commonly accepted that Sri Lanka is facing a serious collapse of the rule of law, and its present structure of governance provides absolute immunity to the executive president for official and personal acts and omissions. While former members of the Human Rights Commission admitted the endemic torture prevalent within the country, associated with a collapsed policing system, these matters are no longer of concern to the new Commission. And yet, this Commission is a member of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-020-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,