SRI LANKA: Two decisions that expose the utter collapse of rule of law

The decision made by the Canadian government to impose sanctions on two former presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Staff Sergeant, Sunil Ratnayaka, and Lt. Commander, P Hettiarachchi for gross and systematic violations of human rights during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), and supreme court decision in favour of petitioners regarding the failure on the part of the then president Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP Pujitha Jayasundara, former defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former national intelligence director Nilantha Jayasuriya, and former director of the State Intelligence Service Sisira Mendis who were all ordered to pay heavy damages to the victims for failing to prevent the act of terrorism caused on the Easter Sunday 2019, marks important recognition of the very serious collapse of the rule of law system in Sri Lanka and its failure to provide the required protection to the citizens. While greatly appreciating these decisions, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) hopes that these will create much delayed debate on the grave crisis of rule of law and law enforcement in Sri Lanka.

AHRC wishes to highlight the following passage of the supreme court judgement and call upon everyone including the parliament to pay due attention to the following observations and recommendations: Before we proceed to summarize the compensation payable and part with the judgment, we must express our shock and dismay at the deplorable want of oversight and inaction that we have seen in the conduct of affairs pertaining to Security, Law and Order and Intelligence. There are glaring examples of a lack of strategic co-ordination, expertise and preparedness that need a critical examination as to the way forward. The failures that eventuated in the Easter Sunday attacks and the concomitant deaths and devastations have left behind an indelible blot on the security apparatus of the Country and this Country which is blessed by a multi-cultural and multi religious polity cannot be left to the vagaries of these follies and made to suffer leading to violence, fear, apprehension and uncertainty. These events must recede into oblivion but they remind us starkly of the necessity to effect legislative, structural and administrative changes.
It is evident from the evidence placed before us that there is an urgent need to place the National Security Council (NSC) on a statutory footing and its composition specified with clarity so that there are no maneuvers to manipulate hostile exclusions and selective inclusions. The affidavit testimonies and the large volume of documents we have perused highlight the necessity to revamp the security systems and intelligence structures so that the expanding threats of terrorism and emerging challenges could be nipped in the bud and arrested as this Country cannot descend into anarchy once more. The course of conduct we have scrutinized demonstrates a woeful lack of expertise in intelligence gathering and dissemination among important individuals entrusted with the task. For instance, the office of Director, SIS and CNI must be occupied by individuals with necessary skill and expertise and the conduct of the Respondents who held the office, upon receiving sensitive intelligence, shows a lack of awareness and understanding of strategic vision. We recommend that the duties and functions of the office of Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) must be stipulated with definite certainty and the office should be occupied by a person having the necessary expertise, training and qualification”.

The decision by the Canadian government and the judgement of the supreme court have brought a severe verdict on 3 of former executive presidents of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Perhaps this may be the first time in world history that 3 of the heads of states in a single country has been brought into such a severe condemnation. Such condemnation though made against 3 individuals who held these posts, it also proves the correctness of the critics who have consistently held that the executive presidential system is an unsuitable political institution for democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka and this institution poses perhaps the single most danger to all aspects of Sri Lankan life including security of its people. As the supreme court has pointed out, Sri Lanka is very much in need of legislative, structural and administrative changes.

Perhaps the single most important debate that should occupy the parliament as well as media and popular discussion should be the way to supplement such recommendations for legislative, structural and administrative changes.

We hope a serious debate will now at least begin on most important issues that affects the nation and every effort will be made to achieve such systemic changes which alone can ensure the rescue of Sri Lanka from falling into further abyss.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-001-2023
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Judicial system,