Open letter on the arbitrary appointment of Commissioners to the National Human Rights Commission
20 May 2006 12:00 am
FORUM-ASIA expresses deep concern about the recent appointment of Commissioners to the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (NHRC), which has bypassed the constitutional process, and severely undermines the credibility and independence of the NHRC. It notes that the appointment was made a mere nine days after Sri Lanka’s election to the UN Human Rights Council and that it contradicts the government’s pledge of “building [the NHRC’s] capacity” in declaring its candidacy to this premier UN human rights body.
His Excellency the Hon. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
President, Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
c/o Office of the President
Colombo, SRI LANKA
FORUM-ASIA expresses its deep concern about the recent appointment of Commissioners to the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (NHRC). This appointment has bypassed the constitutional process, and severely undermines the credibility and independence of the NHRC.
We note that the appointment was made a mere nine days after Sri Lanka’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It contradicts the government’s pledge of “building [the NHRC’s] capacity” in declaring its candidacy to this premier UN human rights body. It also contradicts the Paris Principles on National Institutions adopted by UN General Assembly, which specifies that appointment of members of such institutions “shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces”.
The 17th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, created and mandated the Constitutional Council with powers to select members of independent statutory bodies such as the NHRC. This amendment was the result of a rare consensus in parliament and raised hopes that appointments to independent statutory bodies would be depoliticized.
At present, however, the Constitutional Council is unable to carry out this function because of the reluctance of you and the former President to appoint members to make a full Council. Because of this, the letter and spirit of the 17th amendment has been violated by the series of arbitrary appointments made by you to key independent institutions such as the National Police Commission, Public Service Commission and now, the National Human Rights Commission.
We call on you to withdraw these arbitrary appointments, take immediate steps to constitute the Constitutional Council and enable it to fulfill its mandate of selecting members of independent commissions, including the NHRC.
Mr. Morten Kjaerum, Chairman, International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Mr Kieren Fitzpatrick, Director, Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
Mr. Orest Nowosad, Coordinator, National Institutions Unit, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. Rory Mungoven, Senior Human Rights Advisor, Office of the High Commission for Human Rights
Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights
Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Background to the crisis in the National Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka
On 3 April 2006, the term of office of the entire National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka expired. President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed a new commission on 18 May 2006. Deshamanya P. Ramanadan, former Justice of the Supreme Court was appointed as the Chairman and D. Jayawickrema, S.G. Punchihewa, Nalani Abeywardena and M.T.M. Basik were appointed as the rest of the commissioners.
President Rajapakse’s appointments bypassed the constitutional process specified in the 17th amendment to the constitution in 2001. According to the constitution, the President should nominate the commissioners selected by the Constitutional Council.
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced and passed with a rare consensus of all the political parties, and was welcomed by civil society and other stake holders. It established a Constitutional Council, whose core purpose was to make suitable appointments to the independent statutory commissions, such as the National Human Rights Commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, Election Commission and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.
However, the 10-member Constitutional Council has formally ceased to function since October 2005 because the body’s membership has not been filled. Members of the Constitutional Council consists of : the Speaker (as Chairperson), the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, an appointee of the President, five persons jointly nominated by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and one person jointly nominated by members of minority political parties (or parties other than those which PM or Opposition Leader belong to).
At present, six members (the nominees of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the minority parties) of the Council have not been appointed by the President. This has made it almost impossible for the Council to achieve the required quorum of is six out of 10 members.
President Rajapakse’s latest move came amidst demands from civil society groups, both local and international, to constitute the Constitutional Council, and refrain from arbitrary Presidential appointments to these key independent commissions.
Appointments to the NHRC was preceded by similar selections made to the National Police Commission and Public Services Commission in April. These arbitrary appointments were widely condemned by local and international civil society groups.
The controversial NHRC appointments has come at a time when violence was escalating in the country. This was also at a time when the Sri Lankan government was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, in which its candidacy was based on a platform of building the NHRC’s capacity.