The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has recently been beset by divisions and internal battles between Human Rights Commissioner Prathiba Mahanama and the Commission Chairman and former judge, Priyantha Perera, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Dr. Mahanama who is also a lawyer and an academic continues to make statements and give media interviews on behalf of the Human Rights Commission without consultation with Chairman Perera or other members of the board. Irked at Mahanama’s conduct, the HRC Chairman has appointed Nimal Punchihewa as spokesman for the Commission. Punchihewa also functions as Chairman of the Land Reforms Commission that has legal authority to distribute state land.
Mahanama has reportedly challenged Punchihewa’s appointment on the grounds that there was no legal provision in the HRC Act to appoint spokesman. Nimal Punchihewa is a close associate of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and hails from the same area down south.
Additionally Punchihewa has also been appointed Secretary Legal, although no such position exists in the HRC Act or the cadre, while there is a permanent Secretary in the HRC. Chairman of the HRC Priyantha Perera is eager to secure another term in office through the good offices of Punchihewa, sources close to the HRC Board claim.
Meanwhile, the HRC announced last week that it would conduct a full scale inquiry into the military shooting at Ratupaswela. However, after hundreds of victims and journalists have indicated their willingness to come forward, the HRC suddenly dropped the inquiry.
It is believed that President Rajapaksa had sent a warning to HRC Chairman Perera, through Punchihewa, that the Commission should not do anything that would embarrass the Government or the Rajapaksa administration.
The Human Rights Commission has been provided extensive capacity building and training by the Commonwealth Secretariat recently in a bid to showcase Sri Lanka in a better light from a human rights perspective ahead of the CHOGM 2013. The HRC’s courageous decision to hold an inquiry into the Weliweriya violence was considered to be the result of some of these measures to strengthen the country’s human rights protection arm.