A new trade union comprised of staff of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka has organised a strike on today, November 1, to oppose the transfer of the Kandy Area Coordinator, Mr Niranjan Sumanasekara. The chairperson of the HRC, Radhika Coomaraswamy, made the decision to transfer the area coordinator after a one-man committee recommended that he lacked the competency needed to make inquiries into human rights violations such as torture.
The committee had been appointed by the HRC after an earlier inquiry found that the area coordinator had dismissed a complaint of torture against some officers of the Ankumbura police without having conducted an inquiry. A subsequent inquiry found that the allegations were true. The coordinator had also allegedly conspired with the police officers against whom the allegation had been made, thereby putting at risk the security of all the complainants. His report in the case also caused a delegation from the government of Sri Lanka to give misleading information to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, last November. Just last week a former senior HRC investigator in Kandy, Shelton Ranaraja, accused Mr Sumanasekara and the HRC of ignoring his reports on inquiries and not implementing his recommendations, causing him to resign out of frustration.
It has been widely noted that much had gone wrong with the HRC before the appointment of its new commissioners, who have sought to make reforms and regain public confidence. Some staff persons have resisted these changes. Some of these persons may be those who have enjoyed opportunities for corruption during inquiries into police abuses, which they now fear losing. This may explain the strong resistance to this transfer.
However, the right of transfer and dismissal lies with the HRC itself. The resistance shown in this instance is not a statement of human rights, but rather a breach of discipline. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) supports the decision of the HRC to transfer the Mr Sumanasekara. The only concern is that the move does not go far enough: the AHRC has earlier called for his dismissal on the ground of gross abuse of powers and for having become an obstacle to the achievement of human rights for the people of Kandy.
The strike will test the resolve of the HRC to end some entrenched practices of corruption and inefficiency. The AHRC urges the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to stand firm and remove all bad elements in its staff to ensure that it is capable of carrying out its mandate to protect and promote human rights in accordance with the law.