SRI LANKA: AHRC Welcomes People’s Victory and Calls for CJ’s Resignation / Impeachment

A decisive new stage in the political life of Sri Lanka has arisen as a result of the people’s verdict, which overwhelmingly affirms the commitment of Sri Lankans to democracy and the rule of law. Victory to the new President Maithripala Sirisena and the New Democratic Alliance is a mandate given by the people to carry out promised constitutional and other reforms. Above all, this mandate is for the immediate abolition of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which will automatically revive the 17th Amendment; and it should proceed to the abolition of all the obnoxious clauses of the 1978 Constitution, which are obstacles to the enforcement of the rule of law and democracy in the country.

In this regard, it must be noted that there is no other place in the world that has granted the Executive President such powers to exercise absolute power. Countries such as the United States and France have circumscribed the powers of the President by keeping their Presidents bound by an extensive framework of institutions and by firm traditions to uphold democracy and the rule of law. The obnoxious clauses in Sri Lanka must go as soon as possible. All obstructions for people’s participation, such as curtailment of media freedom and attacks on journalists and other opinion makers should come to an end, so that the people are allowed to participate in bringing about the desired democratic reforms.

A Salute to the Commissioner of Elections

In the ouster of a government by a free and fair election, Sri Lanka has once again proved that, despite serious assaults by several executive presidents, its basic democratic structure remains intact. Adult franchise introduced in 1931 has obviously become a solid part of Sri Lankan political structure and the mentality of the people. In this regard, the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya should be especially congratulated for the courageous defense of the people’s right to a free and fair election. He and his team have earned the rightful esteem of the people and have also created an example that should be followed by successors. It is to be hoped that the strong position taken by the Elections Commissioner will be further enhanced by the establishment of an Independent Elections Commission, under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution as soon as possible.

Strengthen All Democratic Institutions

The 1978 Constitution was aimed at paralyzing, if not destroying, all democratic public institutions in Sri Lanka. At last, the people have understood the danger and have voted overwhelmingly to end all suppression of Sri Lankan public institutions, such as the police service, elections commissioner’s office, the civil service, the auditor general’s department, commission against bribery and corruption, and all other related agencies. In this regard, from the point of view of restoring the rule of law, asserting the independence of the Sri Lankan Police remains a priority. The police must be made into the premier law enforcement agency, one that may, without hindrance, safeguard the rule of law and create a safe environment for people to engage in their various activities. A lot has been done to damage the policing institution. The most important restraint that bound the policing institution was what was popularly called “politicization”, which simply meant that the politicians controlled the police service to achieve their ends. A comprehensive review of such negative processes that had become part of the system should be undertaken and corrective action should be taken to remove them.

One of the paramount deeds needed in Sri Lanka, both from the point of view of achieving quick economic progress as well as ensuring the safety of all citizens, is the modernization of the Sri Lankan police. The old model of policing that exists in the country is unable to provide services with the sophistication required in a modern nation. The Irish British constabulary style policing system introduced by the British failed to absorb the changes that were taking place throughout the world and has, therefore, ossified into an outdated institution. As opposed to colonies like Sri Lanka, what was developed in the city of London was a metropolitan style of policing – identified as policing by consent; such policing never became part of the institutional framework of Sri Lanka. Therefore, a radical re-engineering is what is needed. This belated task of acquiring modern capacities and changing the image of the police is an essential task which the AHRC hopes the Inspector General of Police and high ranking officers will set themselves to achieve.

Removing the Culture of Fear and Impunity

The period that began with the 1978 Constitution was characterized by government authorized extrajudicial killings, including enforced disappearances, routine practices of torture at all police stations, the entrenched habit of issuing death threats to all opponents of the government, and the failure to investigate and prosecute offending officers, whether they be military, police, or paramilitary officers. A critical examination of this problem and steps to end it, once and for all, should be one of the components of the modernization of the policing service.

Need for an ICAC (Hong Kong) Style Anti-Corruption Commission

The Sri Lankan Commission against Bribery and Corruption is one of the institutions that have earned the scorn of the people. Particularly under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, this Commission has been given a virtual holiday; the government took measures to ensure that the Commission wouldn’t perform the lawful functions it was expected to perform. All Sri Lankan governments have, so far, failed to confront bribery and corruption with any kind of seriousness.

Another paramount need for the economic progress of Sri Lanka, as well as for the preservation of the rule of law in the country, is the establishment of a genuine Commission against Bribery and Corruption. Around the world there are many examples of effective government agencies for the control of corruption. One such institution is the Independent Commission against Corruption in Hong Kong.

One of the great contributions of the new President, for which he could be remembered with gratitude in the future, can be the establishment of such a credible commission for combatting corruption. We hope that the new President and the New Democratic Front will make it a priority to establish such a commission; this can be one of the ways by which the President and the alliance can remove the people’s fear that the newly elected government will betray its mandate just like the former government of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Independence of Judiciary: Need to Impeach Chief Justice Mohan Peiris

An enormous slur on the democratic reputation of Sri Lanka was the illegal removal of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake as Chief Justice. The people of Sri Lanka and the world need to be reassured that such an attack on the independence of the judiciary will not happen again, and that all safeguards are established to protect against any such attack.

A first step would be for incumbent de facto Chief Justice Mohan Peiris to resign. In case he does not do, he should be removed by constitutional means of impeachment. His black career has in it more than enough grounds for his impeachment. And, with this, all steps should be taken to remove the habit of political interference in the process of appointment, transfer, and removal of judges. A quick resuscitation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution could contribute to this end. Besides, avenues must be created for the public to make complaints against corruption and abuse of power by judges, and assurance must be given to the people that such complaints would be credibly and speedily investigated and that appropriate actions will be taken.

The Civil Society

It had been the practice of the former government to portray civil society actions as an attack on the country. Much has been done to blacken people’s involvement in political life. Deliberate attempts must be made to remove all such black propaganda and to allow all agencies of civil society to contribute to the functioning of the nation.
It will remain a slur on Sri Lankan civil society that it allowed the operation of the 1978 Constitution for so many decades. This Constitution should have been resisted from the beginning. Why the civil society failed to put up such a resistance should be carefully studied, so that awareness about the need for civil society to be ever vigilant to protect the basic principles of liberal democratic constitutionalism is created. This negative experience should never be repeated.

New Formula for National Strength: Majority and Minority Standing Together.

In all the crucial moments when democracy in Sri Lanka was under threat, the minority communities, i.e. the Tamils, the Muslims, and other religious minorities, stood together with the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. This election result is another example. The result provides a formula with which the majority and the minority can use their creative abilities and utilize the common sense of the people to resolve some of the major problems that have created much loss and sadness in Sri Lanka. What is needed is that all sections of the society engage in dialogue, trusting that all the problems besetting the nation can be resolved in a spirit of reasonable engagement. We hope both the new President and his alliance and all political parties, including the parties of the minorities, will work within this new formula of political friendship where they can support each other.
We congratulate the people of Sri Lanka on this occasion when they have, once again, demonstrated their political genius and wisdom. We hope that such genius and wisdom will not be lost in this nation, ever. We hope that future generations will have the benefit of the change that has resulted today and that their hopes for the future will not be betrayed ever again.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-006-2015
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Institutional reform, Judicial system, Rule of law,