By Belinda Cranston –
There is little point in delegates gathering at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka unless rule of law issues in the South Asian nation are raised, a Sri Lankan human rights lawyer says.
The meeting, which will be opened by Prince Charles on 15 November, has already been boycotted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has criticised the host country for failing to investigate human-rights violations during its 29-year civil war.
Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, who is delivering two public lectures at ANU next week, says countries including Australia are obliged to discuss the unravelling of the rule of law in Sri Lanka while attending the CHOGM meeting in Colombo.
Rule of law refers to a legal system in which the law is able to impose meaningful restraints on a country’s government.
“If a country were to take the position that it observed the rule of law in its own country, but is not concerned about that not being observed in other countries…I do not think that attitude is a reasonable one,” she said.
“And I do not think that that attitude is appropriate.”
For ‘ordinary’ Sri Lankans, Pinto-Jayawardena maintained CHOGM was of little relevance.
“Because the rule of law is not being enforced by the host country,” she said.
Pinto-Jayawardena attributes the ‘complete and utter breakdown’ of the country’s legal system following the end of the civil war in 2009, to the centralisation of power in one person – namely Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In recent months, Rajapaksa removed Sri Lanka’s chief justice from office – a move that was strongly criticised by religious leaders, pro-democracy activists and lawyers.
In Sri-Lanka’s north-east, where the Tamil population is highly concentrated, physical security and land ownership has been negatively affected.
“Civil administration has still not replaced military administration,” says Pinto-Jayawardena.
“Within the last three or four years, we have seen instances of places of worship being demolished, sometimes by government troops and sometimes by unknown groups, whose actions are not then investigated.”
When the war ended in 2009, many family members were missing.
“The welfare of these people has not yet been accounted for,” says Pinto-Jayawardena.
A 2010 government inquiry into Sri Lanka’s civil war was flawed, she added, because the government wasn’t interested in implementing most of its recommendations.
Pinto-Jayawardena is delivering two lectures at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific as part of its distinguished visitors series.
The first lecture, Braving the seas: Sri Lanka’s post-war troubles, will take place from 5-6.30pm on Monday 11 November.
She will deliver Women, politics and the law in Sri Lanka at Seminar Room 3, Hedley Bull Centre (Building 130) from 11.30am to 12.30pm on Wednesday 13 November.
Pinto-Jayawardena’s visit is supported by the Research School of Asia and the Pacific at ANU.
*Story by Belinda Cranston – The Australian National University, Canberra