( December 12, 2012, Hong Kong – Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated yesterday that he will initiate a review of the impeachment issue and that he will ensure an independent and fair inquiry. He said that his conscience is not at ease about the issue and that before he will act on the impeachment issue he will ensure that a group of independent persons intervene in the matter.
The president made this remark as an unprecedented local protest gathered on the manner in which the Parliamentary Select Committee conducted its inquiry by seven members from the government. Four members of the opposition walked out and made a public statement giving a long list of defects contributing to the unfairness of the impeach inquiry. The Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and her legal team also walked out of the inquiry stating that it did not guarantee an inquiry by an impartial tribunal as required in the removal of a superior court judge. She also cited the proposals contained in the draft constitution of the year 2000 which incorporated a provision for judges of the Commonwealth to conduct an inquiry in the case of the Chief Justice and three other judges in the case of superior court judges.
The protest included many strikes by local bar associations throughout the country yesterday (December 11) and a nation-wide strike of lawyers proposed for today. Some bar associations such as that of Vavuniya declared a strike for the entirety of this week.
Meanwhile, the Bar Association is to have a general meeting on the coming Saturday to discuss a resolution proposing that no member of the Bar Association will accept the post of Chief Justice if the incumbent CJ is impeached without an inquiry by an impartial tribunal. Please see: The fight against reducing the judiciary to a government stooge
Adding to many condemnations of the impeachment process followed so far Justice C.G. Weeramanthry, a former judge of the International Court of Justice and the senior-most surviving former judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka issued a statement strongly condemning the impeachment process and pointing to serious consequences to the country and to all its institutions.
Meanwhile the worldwide condemnation of the impeachment proceedings is continuing. Never has there been such an intense level of international condemnation of a matter relating to the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.
It was in a background of such a crisis that President Rajapaksa talked about a review of the process. However, he failed to state clearly as to whether enabling legislation will be brought about in terms of Article 107 (3) of the Constitution to ensure that there will be an impartial tribunal by a competent body into investigations relating to the impeachment of the chief judge or other superior court judges.
The opposition United National Party suggested that if the president is sincerely giving an undertaking on this issue the best course would be to support the private member bill submitted by a UNP MP Wijedasa Rajapaksa proposing legislation for the appointment of judges from Commonwealth countries into an investigation on allegations against the Chief Justice and such other provisions relating to the impeachment process.
As the government has the required majority and also is likely to have the full support from all parties in the parliament to bring about such legislation it is possible to pass unanimously such a law within quite a short time. Therefore if the government has the political will to do the right thing then the course open to the government is quite clear and all the ground work has already been done by way of the private member bill. The author of the bill is also the current president of the Bar Association.
However, the government’s message was quite mixed. The Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, the Minister of Health and the secretary of the SLFP was quoted by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation this morning as stating his support for the Parliamentary Select Committee. Meanwhile the same broadcast also urged the Chief Justice to resign as it is improper for a person found guilty by the PSC to continue in office. In the same state media a morning program inappropriately titled Peoples’ Power continued to justify the impeachment process as proper and correct. It tried to create the impression that there is no difference between the process followed in the United States to impeach a president and the process followed in Sri Lanka for the impeachment of the Chief Justice. By providing inaccurate information the program attempted to misinform the public and justify the impeachment process as it has happened so far.
President Rajapaksa did not give specific details of which he intends to do to ensure an impartial tribunal to inquire into the impeachment. Neither did he make any concrete proposals on how and when would take any such action.
Under these circumstances any responsible government would place its proposals if it has any concretely before the people as they are all focused on this issue at the moment. People angered by what appeared to be a political persecution of the Chief Justice for making some adverse judgments, for example in the Divineguma case will not be appeased by a vague promise by the president on this all important issue.
As the former judge, C.G. Weeramanthry has pointed out the issues involved in this present debate are of importance to the country as well as all institutions. Therefore it is only proper that the president should clearly state as to whether a new legislation in terms of Article 107 (3) is envisaged or whether the government will withdraw the impeach motion altogether.
| A statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission