SRI LANKA: Call for Inquiry Commission to Probe into Security Issues relating to the Assassination of Judge Ambepitiya

The assassination of the High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya took place on the 19th of November. To date, no one has owned up to the responsibility for the failure to provide security to the Judge, who held senior position in the judiciary. In any democracy or in any country that respects the rule of law, persons would have resigned or been made to resign as a result of such a failure of security. However, there hasn’t even been a serious probe into this failure and no one has come forward to tender an apology for this grave failure that resulted in an act of great brutality.

The public needs to know who was at fault for failing to provide security for this High Court Judge. Who, within the police system was in charge of providing security for judges in general and for this High Court Judge in particular? Who in the judiciary coordinates and supervises police measures for the protection of judges? Is there a regular control mechanism at all? 

From the discussion that is being reported in newspapers it is not possible to find any clear answer to these questions. After the event, it is now said that a Superintendent of Police will be placed in charge of the security of judges. The question then is who has been responsible for this task up until now. Only the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the police hierarchy can answer this question. Were the arrangements purely ad hoc without any direct responsibility being placed on any one officer? If this was the case, then the tragic death of the judge is hardly a surprise.

What, if any, has been the practice in the past for providing security for judges? Are there any circulars or guidelines? Are there any headquarters’ orders or any written instructions at all?

More importantly, is there a memorandum of understanding between the judiciary and the police on the matter of providing security for judicial officers? Have there been negotiations on these matters between the two branches and are there minutes and notes of such discussions? Are these expressions of concern by the judiciary just ad hoc and only expressed on the occasion of serious lapses, such as in the case of the killing of Judge Ambepitiya? Over the years, when there have been occasions of tension, what type of understanding has been developed by way of guidelines and the like? Are there any files containing the nature of discussions into these matters?

At the political level, responsibility rests both with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Public Security, Law and Order. What discussions have there been on this matter in the past between these ministries and what guidelines were arrived at? Or, have there been no such discussions and arrangements?

If the promises given after the death of Judge Ambepitiya are to be taken seriously by anyone at all, it is time for a public inquiry to be conducted by a Commission tasked with looking into all these matters. The Commission should preferably consist of senior judges, and they should be given a mandate to question any person at any level of any authority and also to seek the views of the public. A Commission of this nature should be able to produce its findings and recommendations quite rapidly.

It is quite obvious that the deadlock existing on the issues that arose due to the killing of Judge Ambepitiya could be dealt with only by way of such a public Commission. We urge the government of Sri Lanka, the parliamentary opposition of Sri Lanka, the President, Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition in particular to take the initiative to appoint a Commission and launch a public inquiry into this matter.

We call upon all civil society organisations in Sri Lanka who have been expressing concern over the killing of this judge and the deteriorating situation of the rule of law in the country, to press for the appointment of such a Commission that has an adequate mandate and the necessary resources as soon as possible. We also call upon the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to play an active role in this regard. It is not possible for the Human Rights Commission to perform its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights unless the very serious problems arising from the death of the judge are discussed publicly and are resolved.

As important as the killing of the judge are the attacks on complainants and witnesses who are coming before courts. These attacks are being launched in order to prevent them from giving evidence. The example of Mr. Gerald Perera, who died on November 24th, 2004, as a result of having been shot while he was awaiting the opportunity to give evidence in a trial under the prevention of torture act (Act No 22/1994), is one of the many examples of attempts to paralyze the judicial process by way of assassinations, violence and intimidation. A Commission probing into the affairs of the security of the judiciary will also have to deal with the problems of witness protection, about which much is spoken and nothing is done. All of these considerations would require a high level Commission, consisting mostly of judges, to probe into these matters and to make recommendations for an effective programme for the protection of judges to be set up as soon as possible.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-56-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Judicial system, Police negligence, Rule of law, Torture,