SRI LANKA: 17th Amendment crisis — immediate appointment of the nine members of the Constitutional Council is the way out

The issues of the non appointment of the Constitutional Council (CC) members and the resultant collapse of all the relevant independent commissions remain unresolved despite unprecedented public protests arising from all sectors of Sri Lankan society and also from international sources. The government remains stubborn in its refusal to appoint the nine members who have already been nominated, on the illegitimate basis that the tenth member has not yet been named. However, a consensus has been arrived at amongst many sources that there is no excuse for the non appointment of the existing nine members by the president. The president’s move instead to appoint members of two commissions, the National Police Commission and Public Service Commission, using a list of persons that he has personally selected, has added further confusion to this situation. The only excuse that the government spokesman has made with regard to the widespread criticism that the president has violated the Constitution has been to claim that the president has done so in good faith.


The breaching of the Constitution, which is the paramount law of the country, is not a matter of good faith on the part of anyone, much less on the part of the president. The simple issue is that if the president himself openly and blatantly violates the country’s paramount law, how is it possible to maintain respect for law and order in the country? The very fact that law and order is at its lowest ebb at present should have been a very cogent reason for the president and the government to have been careful to convey their respect for the constitutional order and for the rule of law.


If it is the position of the government that an error has been made by the president, then the way out is to recall the appointments to these two commissions and stop any further moves in that direction. Together with this, the already nominated nine members should be appointed to the CC and they should be left to sort out the matter of the one remaining member that needs to be appointed. It has been pointed out that the quorum needed for the CC to function is only six members.


What is at stake here is the constitutional order. Disturbance of this order is an attack on the basic foundations of the rule of law. In a conflict ridden society, within which very little room is left for the furtherance of legal modes of settlements of disputes, more attention should have been paid to avoiding giving the impression of inviting any further acts that may lead to chaos. The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly pointed out that chaos is now a way of life in Sri Lanka and that it is the responsibility of the government and civil society to end such chaos as a prerequisite for survival. We once again urge the government to take the constitutionally valid path, which is the appointment of the members of the CC. We also urge civil society not to cooperate with any other move which falls short of adherence to the Constitution. Resistance to the destruction of the constitutional order is not only legitimate but also imperative under the circumstances faced by the people in Sri Lanka at this moment. The ultimate defenders of the Constitution are the people. If the legal guardians of the Constitution are disregarding it, only the people can save the constitutional order.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-073-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system,