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Sri Lanka: Sliding further down the road of total authoritarian rule – Impeachment of Chief Justice and appointment of Mr. Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice

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The impeachment of the first women Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke and the appointment of Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice is a serious blow to the independence of the judiciary and the functioning of democracy in Sri Lanka, said Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights organization representing 47 human rights organizations from 16 Asian countries including Sri Lanka.

Mr. Mohan Peiris was the former Attorney General and subsequently served as the Legal Advisor to the Cabinet before being appointed as the new Chief Justice. In both positions, he had defended the present government in relation to allegations of grave violations of international law. He had gained notoriety for falsely stating before theUnited Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) in November 2011, that the disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda was living overseas. When the wife of the journalist wanted him to appear before a Sri Lankan court, he resisted until the court issued a summon on him, which he attended and gave testimony in court denying the statement he had made before the UNCAT.

“We are gravely concerned with the manner Shirani Bandaranayke was removed from the position, a move that is clearly politically motivated,” said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of FORUM-ASIA. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, has expressed concern that “the procedure for the removal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is extremely politicized and characterized by lack of transparency, lack of clarity in the proceedings, as well as lack of respect for the fundamental guarantees of due process and fair trial”

During Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review in November 2012, H.E. Mahinda Samarasinghe responded to recommendations by Poland, Slovakia and the United States regarding the need for the government to safeguard and strengthen judicial independence by stating that “due process would be followed” in the impeachment process.

Yap said the appointment of Mr. Mohan Peiris will now allow the Government of Sri Lanka to wrest full control over the judiciary, which should be totally independent from the executive in a functioning democracy to check abuses of executive powers. “With this new development, we fear Sri Lanka will slide further down the road into total authoritarian rule”, added Yap.

The move to impeach the Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayke came on the heels of a series of disturbing incidents that have pointed to intimidation of judges and lawyers as well as political interference in the work of the judiciary. Amongst these was the assault on Mr. Manjula Tilakaratna, the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), following his statement issued on 12 September 2012 alleging political interference from the executive on the commission that is mandated to appoint, suspend and transfer judges and magistrates. The incident led judges and lawyers of Sri Lanka to boycott the courts in a one-day protest on 8 October 2012. No arrests of the main perpetrators have been made so far in this severe interference of the judiciary.

In addition, the Mannar Courts came under attack by a mob, reportedly instigated by a government Minister, whom reportedly called up a judge requesting a particular judgment and threatened the judge when the request was rejected.

“The Commonwealth should seriously reconsider its decision to hold its Heads of Governments meeting in Sri Lanka in November 2013,” urged Yap, in responding to the deep disappointment expressed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General over the impeachment of the Chief Justice and his commitment to “consider further Commonwealth initiatives and responses as are envisaged in situations that could be perceived to constitute violations of core Commonwealth values and principles” on 13 January 2013 .

“This latest serious erosion of the independence of the judiciary will further encourage the climate of impunity that prevails in the country. We are extremely concerned that this does not reflect any of the claims of the Government of Sri Lanka that it has made towards accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, despite all its assurances to its own people and the international community”, said Yap.

For further inquiries, please contact:

1. Mr. Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA, Executive Director, +66818689178, [email protected]

2.. Mr. Sayeed Ahmad, FORUM-ASIA, Country Program Manager, +66842176150, [email protected]

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