SRI LANKA: Evolution of the falsifier’s role of the Attorney General’s Department

April 17, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Evolution of the falsifier’s role of the Attorney General’s Department

AG backs government – government backs the AG and no one is backing the rule of law

Today (April 17, 2008), a news item appeared reporting that the government is backing the Attorney General in the face of the severe criticism made by the IIGEP regarding the officers of the Attorney General’s Department being part of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights (CoI). What this reflects is that the government wants the officials of the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) to play the very role of having a conflict of interest, whereby justice can be defeated. The role of the officers of the Department at the CoI was to defeat the possibility of a genuine recording of statements of the complainants and to help the state officers who are, in fact, the accused, to provide explanations which will ensure that any future prosecution is impossible. This is what the government wanted and therefore it is only natural that the government ignores the criticism of the IIGEP experts and defends the AG.

The IIGEP criticism is basically the absence of political will on the part of the government to uncover the truth about gross violations of human rights by state agencies. In fact, the IIGEP comment on this matter is very much understated. The government wants to discourage all calls for genuine inquiries into allegations of abuse of human rights by state agencies. Thus, it plays a proactive role in preventing inquiries. In that proactive role the officers of the Attorney General’s Department are one of the most important components of the falsification.

The evolution of the Attorney General’s Department in sabotaging such inquiries has taken several decades and by now the department is well trained and equipped to play the falsifier’s role. Already in the 70’s the department was developing in that direction. In the well known case of an incident of acid throwing in which Lalith Athulathmudali, a prominent ‘UNP’er who later become a minister, was the alleged culprit, the then Attorney General, prevented the prosecution of the case. This was despite the fact that the Director of Prosecutions, under the Administration of Justice law which existed then, reported that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute. However, more widespread abuse of the Attorney General’s Department came with the next Attorney General who during the 80’s, when habeas corpus applications were being filed both in the north and the south against police and military officers, created a unit within the department to advise such officers how to file falsified statements including affidavits to courts to defeat the applications. Former lawyers who were attached to the department itself have pointed out that this was the beginning of the degeneration and the decline of the department.

There is a UN Human Rights Committee finding against the abuse of authority by a subsequent Attorney General who violated the rights of a prominent journalist, Victor Ivan, by charging him without any basis and who then kept the cases pending as a threat against him. Even the next Attorney General, who took some steps however limited, to correct this situation none-the-less interfered with the prosecutions against officers accused of torture by either not prosecuting officers or even removing their names after the filing of indictments. This came out during the trial of the torture case of Gerald Perera where the High Court judge made an adverse comment on the department for removing one of the accused from the list given in the indictment, about which she expressed shock.

Any detailed study of what was called at one time the Special Unit to Deal with the Disappearances within the Attorney General’s Department would demonstrate complete lack of any regard for the basic norms of prosecutions within a rule of law system. The recommendations given by the commissions who investigated into the forced disappearances in which individual culprits where named and identified were ignored.

Thus, the situation that has now arisen is that on matters relating to the impunity of state officers the Attorney General’s Department does what the government wants and in turn, the government naturally supports the department against any criticism.

What any credible government would have done in the face of the strong criticisms made by the IIGEP is to have set up a high level inquiry about the Attorney General’s Department itself. The decline within the department is so great that until such a high level and credible inquiry is made, and a decisive and comprehensive plan of action is adopted to correct this department, the present situation of playing a falsifier’s role and developing shrewd techniques to defeat justice will be the unhappy task that the officers of this department will be fated to do.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-097-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,