The appointment of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s personal defence lawyer as the Cabinet minister of justice could be the final blow for victims of gross human rights violations who have been struggling for justice for over a decade .
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is at the very least a person of interest in several key cases involving the attacks on journalists Keith Noyahr, Upali Tennakoon and the assassination of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009.
A suspect arrested in connection with Prageeth Ekneligoda’s abduction and suspected murder has also provided a confession before a magistrate that the journalist had been abducted on the orders of then Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In each of these cases and multiple cases of corruption filed against the current President, Ali Sabry PC has represented Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan courts. Most of these cases, including the grave human rights abuses such as disappearances, extra-judicial murder and alleged atrocities committed during the final phase of the war, remain unresolved. As Justice Minister the president’s personal lawyer will now have unprecedented access to the investigation files, investigating officers and will oversee prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Department.
The regime has already launched vicious political witch-hunts against detectives investigating grave human rights violations in order to discredit the probes and taint the officials leading them.
The current CID Director SSP Prasanna Alwis stands accused of covering up Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder while he was heading the Terrorist Investigation Department. Cases against SLPP National List MP Tiran Alles, Gotabaya Rajapaksa acolyte and Avant Garde Chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and other regime loyalists have been effectively abandoned after President Rajapaksa took office in 2019, in what is a criminal waste of public funds and resources to investigate their crimes.
In 2015 Sri Lanka warded off calls for international jurisdiction to prosecute grave human rights violations by claiming that Sri Lanka’s judiciary was both competent and independent enough to handle the cases domestically.
Ali Sabry’s appointment blatantly erodes credibility in the Sri Lankan judiciary, its state prosecution arm and law enforcement and opens the Government of Sri Lanka up to international jurisdiction to redress grave human rights abuses committed against its own citizens because hope for justice domestically has conclusively ended.
The blatant erosion of credibility of the Sri Lankan judiciary, state prosecutors and investigators by Ali Sabry’s appointment opens the Government of Sri Lanka up to international jurisdiction since the hope for justice for victims in Sri Lanka
On the issue of the propriety of the appointment of Ali Sabry, PC as Minister of Justice as he had appeared for the present President in several cases, a senior lawyer stated, on condition of anonymity, that it was up to the Minister to prove his critics wrong by his deeds. “Ali Sabry has been the Deputy President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the whole legal profession will be watching how he performs as Minister of Justice. He surely knows what has been said for and against him. He would be expected, like many of his respected predecessors, not to interfere with the judiciary and the Attorney-General’s Department. However, one or two of his predecessors have been known to be otherwise. So, it is up to Ali Sabry— he could be in either category. But the legal profession would expect him to be in the former category and not the latter. Sabry is young and would someday have to come back to Hulftsdorp. When Felix Dias Bandaranaike came back to the Bar after his defeat in 1977, he was treated like a plague. Felix’s example is certainly not the example that Sabry should follow,” the senior president’s counsel noted in an interview with Colombo Telegraph.
Tamil National Alliance Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran expressed dismay that President’s Counsel Ali Sabry had announced soon after taking oaths as minister of Justice that the Government would repeal the 19th Amendment to the constitution, the reform that clipped presidential powers and restored independent institutions. “I want to tell my friend Ali Sabry that this is a totally anti-democratic act” the TNA Spokesman said.
Sumanthiran also warned the Government that it should stop short of using its two thirds power in Parliament to enact constitutional provisions that go against democracy. “It’s true that the Government has two thirds majority in Parliament. But when J.R. Jayewardene had a five-sixths majority in Parliament and used that power to enact a constitution that went against democracy, it was all of you in this Government that opposed it. In fact those protests were led by current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa,” Sumanthiran recalled during a meeting in the Northern Province on the weekend. (By Chinthika De Silva)