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Sri Lanka: CHRI and SLC Statement on the Impeachment of the Chief Justice

11 January 2013

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Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

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+44 77 637 454 02

We note with grave concern that the Sri Lankan Parliament has decided to remove the Chief Justice of the country through a Parliamentary Select Committee, in contravention of a Constitutional determination by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court. The Court had determined that such a decision could only have been constitutionally taken through an Act of Parliament and not through a Standing order.

This drastic move by the legislature began after the Supreme Court found a controversial Bill tabled in the Parliament unconstitutional. The Bill sought to grant disproportionate powers to the Minister of Economic Development. The impeachment moves were condemned internationally and domestically by civil society groups, intergovernmental institutions, and the legal fraternity. Concerns were also raised by the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s office and professional Commonwealth bodies such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Commonwealth Judges and Magistrates Association. These concerns went unheeded and the legislature, controlled by the ruling party, rushed ahead with the impeachment.

We recall that the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Three Branches of Government state that

  • “Judiciaries and parliaments should fulfil their respective but critical roles in the promotion of the rule of lawin a complementary and constructive manner”
  • “Interaction, if any, between the executive and the judiciary should not compromise judicial independence.”
  • “Judges should be subject to suspension or removal only for reasons of incapacity or misbehaviour that clearly renders them unfit to discharge their duties.”
  • “Any disciplinary procedures should be fairly and objectively administered. Disciplinary proceedings which might lead to the removal of a judicial officer should include appropriate safeguards to ensure fairness”

It has for some time been very clear that the conduct of the government of Sri Lanka has not been in keeping with the fundamental values of the Commonwealth. Serious and persistent violations of Commonwealth values by the government have been repeatedly brought to the attention of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), Commonwealth Governments, and the Commonwealth Secretary-General, by concerned governments and Commonwealth civil society. The Sri Lankan actions - coming as they do in defiance of the Commonwealth’s official caution – are clear evidence of its brazen determination to continue on a course inimical to the fundamental values of the association.

We call upon the Commonwealth Secretary-General, consistent with the mandate given to CMAG at the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2011, to follow up on his earlier expression of concern, and now treat the human rights and rule-of law situation as one which clearly comes within even the most restrictive interpretation of what is “particularly serious and requires an urgent response”

The Secretary-General should thus immediately consult with the Chair of CMAG and call an extraordinary meeting as soon as possible to brief members on the situation and facilitate appropriate consideration.

We also call upon any and all CMAG member states to take note of current developments in Sri Lanka and put them forward for inclusion as a formal agenda item at their next meeting.

Commonwealth Human Rights Institute
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice