By Colombo Telegraph –
The participation of Britain and several other countries at the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Hambantota hangs in the balance with the Sri Lanka Government moving to impeach the Chief Justice, a move that has led to serious concerns by the international community, including the United Nations. Colombo Telegraph learns that many Commonwealth Governments will reconsider participation if the Chief Justice is impeached and removed.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, said in a news release that “judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, after a procedure that complies with due process and fair trial guarantees and that also provides for an independent review of the decision. … The misuse of disciplinary proceedings as a reprisals mechanism against independent judges is unacceptable.” She further stated that in her view, the procedure for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court set out in Article 107 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka allows the Parliament to exercise considerable control over the judiciary and is therefore incompatible with both the principle of separation of power and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The International Commission of Jurists has also stated that the impeachment process must follow international standards of due process.
The Canadian Prime Minister has already stated that he would attend the Meeting only if the human rights situation in Sri Lanka improved. The UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee has stated that the British Prime Minister should publicly state his unwillingness to attend the meeting unless he receives convincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka.
Observers believe that the impeachment of the Chief Justice would add to the concerns of the international community and that many Commonwealth Governments would reconsider their position. Coincidentally, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma today expressed concern about the recent move by the Parliament of Sri Lanka to impeach the country’s Chief Justice, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake.
Speaking in London, the Secretary-General said: “The Commonwealth’s principal consideration is that the provisions of Sri Lanka’s constitution are upheld with regards to the removal of judges, respecting the independence of the judiciary.”
The Secretary-General stressed that the Commonwealth believes the preservation of the rule of law and independence of the judiciary are vital to the healthy functioning of a democracy. He noted: “The Commonwealth’s Latimer House Principles, which govern the relationship between the three branches of government, are a cornerstone of our association’s values. All our member states have committed themselves to upholding the Latimer House Principles so that citizens’ faith and confidence in democratic culture is assured and the rule of law is maintained.”