SRI LANKA/WORLD: UN Rapporteurs point to glaring system failures in the Sri Lankan Justice system

READ Report on Independence of Judges and Lawyers 
READ Report on Torture

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly endorses the reports of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms. Monica Pinto and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Dr. Juan E Mendez.

For all those who are concerned with the uplifting of Sri Lanka from its commonly admitted political mess and the crisis of the administration of justice would find in this report, extremely valuable recommendations for reforms that would benefit the nation.

In fact, most of these recommendations were already made by the two Rapporteurs, in May 2016 when they submitted their preliminary reports following their missions to Sri Lanka.

None of the recommendations is of any controversial nature. In fact, over a long period there had been public consensus on the very same issues that have been taken up, in these two reports.

Of particular importance are the recommendations made by Ms. Monica Pinto, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges and Lawyers. These deal with very important issues such as implementation of human rights treaties, which have been ratified by Sri Lanka but no provisions have been made for their implementation in Sri Lanka except in few exceptional instances such as the introduction of legislation relating to the Convention against Torture and Ill Treatment, and the like. However, in these instances, Sri Lanka has not made provisions for the actual implementation of such laws. For example, when torture takes place on a routine basis almost in every police station, very few prosecutions have ever taken place. Even if and when it takes place, a case can take up to 15 years or more, and sometimes after such a long period, the case is then sent for re-trial. Therefore, the retrial process begins only after 15 years after the incident.

The UN Special Rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers has examined in detail, the factors that have made the Sri Lankan system of administration of justice, ineffective, and almost dysfunctional as a system.

Her emphasis has been how to make the system to work better. For example, with regard to the Constitutional Council, that deals with the most important appointments that affect the lives in the nation, to have a well-established procedure in dealing with such appointments. Which the Council has not yet taken trouble to adopt. Absence of a said procedure, gives rise to suspicions of abuse.

In the same way she recommends that there should be a detailed criteria set out in the selection of judges as well as in their promotions.

Only the politicians who benefit from a bad system of administration of justice would want the continuation of the system failures that are obvious.

Particularly, the objections aired by the Minister of Justice Wijedasa Rajapakse reflects that he has either not read the report or is deliberately trying to distort the report. After all, it was the Minister’s duty to have identified these problems and taken the necessary steps to have them corrected. None of the public statements of the Minister shows that he has taken any serious attempt to study the system failures of the components of the administration of justice that is in the investigation of crimes, in the prosecutions and in the adjudication process.

The Minister has never expressed any shame about the fact that still a simple case like that of rape, murder or torture and ill treatment could take over 15 years before a trial comes to an end. Even after this period, there is still the time for appeals, which means that a case can be heard, easily, for over 20 years. For example, just this month (June 2017), the Panadura High Court, sentenced five police officers for 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and the payment of a fine for the commission of an act of torture in which the victim lost the sight of one eye. The incident took place 16 years earlier. Now after the verdict of this trial, naturally there will be appeals and the final outcome will take at least another five years or more.

It is this type of practical problems that the UN Special Rapporteur is referring to and such type of recommendations should have been welcomed, by the Government if it is concerned with improving this most backward system of administration of justice that exists in the country.

We urge the readers to take a close look at the Recommendations made by these Special Rapporteurs.