INDIA/SRI LANKA: Criminal justice systems arraigned

On 30th October 2014, the High Court of Colombo imposed the Death Sentence on eight persons found guilty of charges of drug trafficking. The allegations against them were that at the time of arrest by the Sri Lanka Navy in November 2011, they had heroin in their possession. Five of the convicted accused fishermen from India and the other three Sri Lankan fishermen.

Following the public announcement of the Court’s verdict, the Indian government publicly protested the Court’s decision in a statement issued by Ministry of External Affairs Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin. The statement claimed that the accused are innocent and that the Indian government will file an Appeal within 14 days implying that that the Indian government believed the charges were fabricated.

This is the first time that the Indian government has intervened in a case decided by a Court in in Sri Lanka and therefore it should be assumed that unless the Indian Government had credible and strong reasons to believe the innocence of the accused, it would not have intervened in this case. The spokesperson for the Sri Lankan government, and Minister of Mass Media and Information Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella attempted to dismiss Indian concerns stating that “India is clearly aware of another country’s legal systems, treaties, convicts exchange agreements,…”. He also added that Sri Lanka did not need to make any interpretation of such Indian concerns. However, this approach is not worthy of a comment from a spokesman on the part of the Sri Lankan Government as due regard could have been shown to the intervention of a neighbor country, which in the past, has never intervened in matters of this nature.

Nevertheless, allegations of the fabrication of charges particularly on drug offences are not rare in Sri Lanka. In fact, a constant allegation against the Sri Lankan investigating authorities is that, quite often, they fabricate charges for various reasons among which, figured high on the list are figures relating to extortion.

In the light of the concerns expressed by the Indian Government, Sri Lankan authorities should look into the matter objectively and scrutinize the grounds for such allegation levelled by their Indian counterpart.

However, the solution to the problem lies in hearing the Appeal as early as possible. In such a circumstance, the Indian Government through lawyers representing them will be able to present the grounds on which they challenged the verdict of the Colombo High Court. As is the nature, there are considerable delays in hearing of such Appeals in Sri Lanka. We hope that given the concerns shown by Indian Government the Sri Lankan Courts will facilitate a speedy hearing of the Appeal.

In any case, pronouncement of the Death Sentence is against the accepted norms regarding punishments in modern day and times. This is notwithstanding the fact that for a long period of time, Sri Lanka has not executed the Death penalty.

In addition, the concluding observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued on 31st October 2014 regarding the independence of Sri Lankan courts may also be relevant in discussions on this issue. The UN Human Rights Committee, raising serious concerns over the lack of independence of judiciary in Sri Lanka had the following observations which are reproduced below;

“…The Committee is concerned by the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which, inter alia, discontinues the Constitutional Council and empowers the President to dismiss or Independence of the Judiciary, and the Paris Principles (General Assembly resolution 48/134, Annex).appoint members of the judiciary and other independent bodies.  Furthermore, it is concerned at the impeachment of the former Chief Justice in January 2013 under circumstances that raised serious doubts about its consistency with basic principles of due process and judicial independence. (arts. 2 and 14)

The State party should:

(a) Repeal the 18th Amendment to the Constitution;

(b) Take legislative and other measures to ensure transparent and impartial processes for appointments to the judiciary and other independent bodies; and,

(c) Take concrete measures to ensure the protection of members of its judiciary from improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, including those of the executive and/or legislature of the State party.

In taking the above measures, the State party should take into full account the Committee’s general comment No. 32 on Right to Equality before Courts and Tribunals and to Fair Trial (2007), the UN Basic Principles on the …”

Full report can be found here.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-190-2014
Countries : India, Sri Lanka,
Issues : Rule of law,