Several human rights activists have condemned the ‘Civil Society’ representatives whose nominations to the Constitutional Council were approved by Parliament yesterday (September 22nd).
Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy and President’s Council Shibly Aziz who will represent the civil society in the Constitutional Council have a lot of baggage that have raised questions over their suitability, good governance activists allege.
The 83 year old Dr Ariyaratne, Leader of the Sarvodaya Movement, has been charged with nepotism, considering that close relatives have been appointed to key positions in his NGO Sarvodaya, the kind of practice that the Government strongly condemned the Rajapaksa regime for promoting
The charges against Dr Coomaraswamy are far more serious. She stands accused of sitting on a key report of an investigation into high profile human rights violations including the killing of five students in Trincomalee in January 2006, purportedly in order to secure Government clearance to take on a top UN post. Ironically she was the UN’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
The said report was commissioned during the time she sat on the Council. The report, put together by T. Suntheralingam, a retired judge, who acted as the Special Rapporteur of an inquiry into high profile human rights violations.
That report was never made public by the Human Rights Commission or the then Government. It finally entered the public domain when Colombo Telegraph published it in January 2014.
The controversy over the report stemmed from Coomaraswamy’s statements to Colombo Telegraph at the time the website published the report. She insisted in the first instance that the report had not been finalised. She said that neither she nor Dr Deepika Udagama (also a member of the Council) had seen a finalised report before they left the Council. She said “Neither she nor I can remember the contents and if it had been finalized we would surely have remembered.”
However, after we published the story quoting an investigator who insisted that the report had been finalised PRIOR to Dr Coomaraswamy’s departure to the UN, she changed her position, Coomaraswamy was forced to acknowledge that she was aware that the report had been finalised and that she had even received it and ordered it to be published. She said however that she didn’t have the time to read the report.
These circumstances indicate irresponsibility or incompetence or both on her part considering the enormity of the allegations and as importantly the seriousness of the findings. The report revealed the involvement of security forces in the said violations. Had the findings been published or been discussed it would have in the very least put pressure on the security forces to be more disciplined in the execution of operations against the LTTE, human rights activists who wish to remain anonymous say.
Strangely, Sri Lanka’s articulate human rights advocates as well as INGOs which profess a keen interest in rights issues never thought fit to question Coomaraswamy over this glaring act of negligence. As strange is the fact that this lobby did not take up the report when Colombo Telegraph finally published it in January 2014, giving rise to the view that they would sideline an important discussion and with it sweep aside notions of justice, truth and retribution rather than cause embarrassment to Coomaraswamy.
‘Had she acted with integrity at the time, perhaps it would have forced the Government to take more seriously relevant international conventions related to conducting military offensives and thus prevented the kind of rights violations said to have taken place towards the end of the war,’ Siritunga Rajakaruna an activist hailing from Kebitigollewa told Colombo Telegraph.
The third ‘civil society’ representative appointed to the CC, Shibly Aziz is a card-carrying member of the United National Party.
‘How can a person who is closely aligned with a political party represent civil society?’ Kumari Siriwardena, a veteran activist in initiatives seeking Good Governance asked. Siriwardena, writing to Colombo Telegraph said ‘These appointments make mockery of the whole concept of independence envisaged by the appointment of civil society representatives to the Constitutional Council’.
The Constitutional Council is mandated to appoint members to several independent commissions in accordance with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.