SRI LANKA: Will the Human Rights Council pull Sri Lanka out of its state of lawlessness?

Posted on 2007-09-20
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At the United Nations Human Rights Council several European Union countries attempted to assist Sri Lanka out of its present serious crisis by suggesting human rights monitoring by the United Nations to buttress the local mechanisms of law enforcement, which have suffered a serious collapse. While the Sri Lankan government, for reasons which are difficult to comprehend, resisted this move the country's law and order situation was manifestly degenerating for the worst. This degeneration was starkly demonstrated in an incident in which the Minister of Labour, Dr. Mervyn Silva and President Mahinda Rajapakse himself were exposed by the media for trying to subvert the due process of the law regarding an incident in which the Minister's son is alleged have pistol whipped a person, causing serious injuries.

The allegations made in the media was that the minister attempted to influence the Mt. Livinia Magistrate to allow bail for his son despite the fact that he is facing charges of a non-bailable nature. There are several reports in the Sri Lankan media that when the Magistrate refused to comply, a group of goon's, allegedly employed by the minister, forced their way into the home of the magistrate's mother and instructed the lady to tell her daughter to grant bail. They went so far as to return the following morning to ask if she had complied. This ‘demand’ was refused and the elderly lady then registered a report to the police. While all this was going on President Rajapakse himself allegedly telephoned the relevant police station, reprimanding them for taking action against the minister's son and removing the police officer who had initially handled the case. Further, Dr. Silva is reported (in several papers) to have forced his way into the Canadian Commission in Colombo with a hand gun and demanded a visa for his son to enable him to leave the country. The Judicial Service Commission (JSA) the highest authority relating to the judiciary in Sri Lanka and the Judicial Service Association has condemned “attempts to influence the judiciary through thuggery”. However, no legal action has so far been taken against the minister for his actions.

What this incident reveals is that even in a simple investigation into a criminal charge regarding a private individual, political muscle can be used to frustrate the normal functioning of the criminal justice system. If this is the case with what should be a simple, straight forward investigation, it is safe to assume that the pressures exerted in investigations into more serious matters such as abductions, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other forms of gross abuses of human rights, will be considerably heaveir.

The conclusion of the third report of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), issued on September 18, 2007 would come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the present circumstances in the country and who could afford to speak honestly on these matters. The IIGEP wrote as follows:

"Conclusion: Taking into account the areas of concern identified in this public statement, the IIGEP concludes that the investigation and inquiry process to date fails to comply effectively with international norms and standards. The IIGEP calls upon the Commission of Inquiry [the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights] and the Government of Sri Lanka, in order to achieve the objectives of the Commission's mandate, to take urgent steps to remedy these concerns."

The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly stated that the Sri Lankan government is neither willing nor capable of seriously and competently investigating gross abuses of human rights. As shown, in most instances the government agencies are not even capable of investigating even ordinary crimes. Under these circumstances the most sensible course for the Sri Lankan government is to work out a formula for the involvement of UN human rights monitors, thereby winning also the good will of the local community as well as the international community, to deal with the catastrophic situation it now faces. The local community, which has completely lost faith in their government's capacity to bolster the administration of justice, may be encouraged by a genuine attempt to find assistance, in order to overcome the present deadlock relating to criminal investigations and prosecutions.

There is skepticism about the ruling regime's willingness to deal with law and order problems as it is itself frequently accused of abuse of power and corruption. All attempts to normalize the situation will also affect the type of abuse of power which has become part of the Sri Lankan politics since the introduction of the executive presidency by J.R. Jayawardene, the first executive president in 1978. Dr. Rajiva Wijesinghe, who is now Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), then documented the works of Jayawardene and characterised it as an erosion of democracy. Nobody would argue that, this erosion of democracy has ceased at any time later. In fact the erosion of democracy developed into a fully fledged collapse of the rule of law. That collapse of the rule of law is no secret to anyone and any amount of authorities can be cited admitting such an enormous collapse. The latest incident involving the Dr. Silva's son merely illustrates an ongoing situation of lawlessness which is now out of control.

However, the present regime may find it difficult to attempt any solution with the help of the United Nations as the regime has quite blatantly demonstrated its lack of adherence to the United Nations Conventions it has signed. This was made apparent when, with regard to the implementation of the Human Rights Committee’s recommendations in the case of Nallaratnam Singarassa’s the Supreme Court held that the president’s signature to the Optional Protocol had no legal significance within Sri Lanka and even required an amendment to the constitution through a referendum in order to validate the president's signature on this matter.

Despite the government’s statements to take steps to correct this situation nothing has been done to deal with it. Instead the Sri Lankan government in its replies to the new individual applications to the Human Rights Committee has taken up the position that it is under no obligation to reply to such communications as it is bound to honour the verdicts of the local courts. The recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee have been ignored by the government on this same basis. Meanwhile, senior government officers are even making statements to the effect that Sri Lanka was bullied into signing the UN conventions.

All this puts the Sri Lankan citizens in a quandary. Is there no solution to the state of lawlessness that they face now? It is up to the Human Rights Council to find an acceptable answer to that quandary. However, if the government of Sri Lanka blatantly obstructs any attempt by the intentional community to extend support, the people may be reminded of a local metaphor which says, “If the fence and the bunt eat the paddy whom can we complain to about that problem?

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the Human Rights Council to look into the extremely grave situation that Sri Lanka is facing and, as a first move for assisting the government to deal with this problem, take steps to send a human rights monitoring mission to the country.