In a brazen move, the Government has proposed the name of disgraced chief justice Mohan Pieris as a candidate for election to the United Nations International Law Commission. Several international organisations have already raised concerns and urged member states not to cast their votes for Pieris who was appointed Chief Justice by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2013 after the illegal impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake. Ten persons are contesting for eight slots from the Asian region at the UN International Law Commission.
Pieris had a chequered and illegitimate reign at the helm of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, but his tenure as Attorney General was far more complicated. Until his successor as AG took over at the Bribery Commission of Sri Lanka following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory in 2019, Pieris was facing corruption charges over his role in defrauding Rs 600 million from the state during his tenure as Attorney General.
Mohan Peiris’ misdeeds and conflicts of interest have been well-document on Colombo Telegraph.
Corruption charge leveled against AG Mohan Pieris for in connivance in defrauding over 600 million rupees of public funds alleged to have been misappropriated by Colombo Dockyard:
Conflicts of interests
* As “Chief Justice” Pieris directed that the Supreme Court case where Asia Asset Finance was the appellant, be heard before a bench of which he was a member, despite being well aware that the Chairman is his brother-in-law and his wife were on the board of directors and were major shareholders in the company.
* The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct – the international gold standard – states that “A judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free therefrom”. Pieris however served as Legal Adviser to the Cabinet, Chairman of the Seylan Bank, Director of Lanka Logistics (the arms purchasing unit of the Ministry of Defence), Director of Rakna Lanka Security (a security company established by then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa), Legal Adviser in the Ministry of Defence, Attorney General, government spokesperson before the UN Human Rights Council to refute allegations of war crimes. However he took the appointment as chief justice after the illegal ouster of Shirani Bandaranayake.
The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) charged Mohan Pieris for preparing an erroneous Attorney General’s report to avoid taking legal action against irregularities committed by the LECO Chairman while purchasing of lands for LECO in 2010.
Illegal appointment as CJ
In 2013, Pieris was appointed head of the judiciary after the illegal removal of the first female chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake. Bandaranayake was impeached in breach of rulings by the two highest courts of the land, which determined that the trial against her was illegal and quashed the report of the kangaroo court of MPs who convicted her. Bandaranayake was reinstated in 2015, after the case was made that she had never been legally removed as Chief Justice, making Peiris an usurper who had never duly held office as her successor. He was summarily removed by President Maithripala Sirisena soon after his election as president.
During the contentious impeachment in Sri Lanka, 45 Judges from all the continents wrote to President Rajapaksa urging him to act immediately to restore the independence of the judiciary by reinstating the legal Chief Justice. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the removal of the Chief Justice “through a flawed process” as a “gross interference with the independence of the judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka.” UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judiciary, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Bar Association and the Bar Associations of several countries and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth called the removal of Shirani Bandaranayake irregular.
In November 2013, Mohan Peiris attended a conference of Chief Justices of the Asian and Pacific Region, convened by the Chief Justice of the Republic of Turkey and the United Nations, uninvited. The Sri Lankan judiciary had been deliberately excluded in view of the impeachment of the legal chief justice in January that year. Neither the UN nor the Turkish judiciary recognized Mohan Peiris as the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. Yet he travelled to Istanbul with his wife, demanded that he be accommodated in the conference hotel, attended the conference and participated in the discussions, without being recognized as a participant. On leaving Istanbul, he demanded that his airfare be reimbursed in cash.
The Istanbul Declaration on Transparency in the Judicial Process, which was adopted at that conference, does not bear his name, nor does it recognize Sri Lanka as a participating country.
Bench fixing at SC to hear cases against himself
It has been chronicled repeatedly that Mohan Pieris, then Chief Justice of Sri Lanka – the man who would have had to appoint a bench to hear election petitions in the event it became necessary – was found to be at the residence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the wee hours of the morning of January 9, 2015. It was then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who arrived at Temple Trees at 5AM for discussions with Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been defeated in the presidential election, who accosted Pieris leaving the premises after a night of alleged deliberations about how to overturn the results of a lawful election and retain power.
Pieris was present, when the three senior Rajapaksa siblings, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabaya discussed the options before them for remaining in power after it became clear by midnight that voters had ousted the two-term president. Also present was Prof. G.L. Peiris, then external affairs minister. Together with Pieris, this conference summoned then Attorney General Yuwanjana Wijayatilake, IGP N Illangakoon and the three service chiefs, to discuss the options before the Government. It is well documented that Pieris had been confident the results of the election could be stayed by the courts, if an emergency was declared overnight and counting had to be suspended. It was the Attorney General, the IGP and the three service chiefs who refused to participate in such moves and warned the Rajapaksa regime that the rank and file would not be willing to carry out such orders.
In essence, while he was serving as “illegitimate chief justice”, Peiris was an active conspirator in the effort to prevent a democratic transition of power in January 2015.
Enemy of human rights
Missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda
In November 2011, Mohan Pieris as the representative of the cabinet, lied to the UN Committee on Torture that disappeared person Prageeth Ekneligoda was comfortably living in a certain country.
When he was summoned to the Homagama Magistrate’s Court to provide evidence of his claims and asked to reveal the journalist’s whereabouts because the court was investigating a habeas corpus petition regarding Eknaligoda, Pieris responded: “only God knows”.
When the parents of Vavuniya prisoner Ganesan Nimalaruban filed a fundamental rights petition in Supreme Court against his death in custody, the case came before the “illegitimate” Chief Justice Pieris and two others.
During submissions by the petitioner’s lawyers, Chief Justice Mohan Peiris made the following remarks: “When the prison is under siege do you want the prisons commissioner have to read to them the Geneva Conventions?” Counsel for the petitioner referred to the injuries in the post-mortem report establishing torture. The Chief Justice said, “We don’t send nursery children to quell a siege. You’ve got to expect injuries.”
When families who had been evicted from their homes overnight by the Urban Development Authority in 2013, they filed fundamental rights action in the Supreme Court. During this case, “Chief Justice” Mohan Peiris made a policy statement on behalf of the Government from the Bench in open court, saying no one should obstruct ongoing development programmes in Colombo, and denounced shanties and low-income neighbourhoods as breeding grounds for vice. (By Chinthika De Silva)