by Shamindra Ferdinando
Against the backdrop of yahapalana government repeatedly ruling out foreign judges and other international experts, including prosecutors, in a judicial mechanism to probe accountability issues, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) would take up a report during the ongoing sessions reiterating the call for foreign judges in accordance with the Oct 1, 2015 resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, former UPFA MP and Joint Opposition activist Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera told The Island yesterday.
Sri Lanka reiterated her commitment to the Oct 2015 resolution promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, in March this year.
The former navy Chief of Staff explained the latest developments on Monday (June 12) afternoon before leaving for Geneva to make representations on behalf of Sri Lanka at side events on the sidelines of the UNHRC Geneva sessions continuing till June 23. The current session commenced on June 6.
Having strongly denied ever agreeing for the inclusion of foreign judges et al in ‘domestic’ judicial mechanism, the ruling UNP-SLFP coalition should clearly state its position in Geneva, Rear Admiral Weerasekera said.
Former Digamadulla electoral district MP pointed out that those who had spoken on behalf of the coalition at a recent adjournment motion repeatedly said that claims in respect of foreign judges were baseless.
The naval veteran said that the government could no longer side-step the issue with Geneva as pressure was stepping up over the co-sponsored resolutions.
The report prepared by UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and on torture, Monica Pinto after having visited Sri Lanka in April-May last year dealt with the independence of judges, lawyers as well as the proper administration of justice in post-January 2015 presidential poll. Rear Admiral Weerasekera said that they were aware of the controversial recommendations as the report was made available before UNHRC took it up.
Rear Admiral Weerasekera pointed out that Pinto had conducted her study here jointly with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, on the invitation of the yahapalana government.
Responding to a query by The Island, the retired Rear Admiral said that in addition to him, five others, including attorney-at-law Dharshana Weerasekera, who on behalf of concerned nationalist groups produced a comprehensive report titled ‘A factual appraisal of the OISL report: A rebuttal to the allegations against the armed forces’ were scheduled to address side events in Geneva.
The retired senior naval officer emphasized that the country expected the government to take a clear stand in Geneva in the wake of the recent cabinet reshuffle that resulted in yahapalana heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera losing foreign ministry portfolio. As the country had been told that Minister Samaraweera was removed for pursuing an agenda inimical to Sri Lanka, the country expected a different stand, Weerasekera said.
Asked whether former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been briefed regarding the Geneva sessions, the Rear Admiral said that he discussed the developments with the former leader as well as wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
The former MP said that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should reveal its stand on Geneva proposal pertaining to foreign judges without further delay. Pointing out that the BASL couldn’t remain silent especially in the wake of the latest report by UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, he said the government never contradicted the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) claim made in Washington in June last year regarding tripartite Sri Lanka-US-TNA agreement on foreign judges. The former MP stressed that the statement made by TNA Jaffna District MP in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Prasad Kariyawasam is the most comprehensive made in respect of proposed judicial mechanism.
Finally, it would be also pertinent to mention that the latest Geneva report derogatory of Sri Lanka was preceded by yahapalana government appointed Manouri Muttetuwegama Commitee report which also called for foreign judges in proposed judicial mechanism, the Rear Admiral said.