By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Ceylon Today asked several questions with regard to the impeachment. Though its assumption that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was going to meet Shirani Bandaranayaka may have been misplaced, it seemed necessary to answer the questions and also to reproduce the full answers since some of what I said was edited out.
1. Reports indicate that the High Commissioner is going to meet deposed Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake during her visit. Isn’t this a clear snub to the government which has consistently attempted to vilify and condemn her?
Given the controversy the impeachment caused, it is understandable that the High Commissioner would want to meet Mrs Bandaranayake.
2. Obviously Pillay meeting Dr. Bandaranayke will be interpreted as a show of tacit support and an acknowledgment that she was unjustly and arbitrarily removed from her post. Do you think the President will interpret her moves to visit Dr. Bandaranayake in this manner or else how do you think he will view it?
I think he will understand that the High Commissioner is working in terms of her mandate. I hope however that government people who meet her will be able to show the rationale for the impeachment.
3. Do you think the government is unhappy that Pillay is going to meet the former Chief Justice?
There will be some people in government who will be unhappy with anything Ms Pillay does.
4. Several independent international legal analysts and commentators including diplomatic missions have voiced the view that Dr. Bandaranayke is being unduly persecuted post-impeachment . They have voiced the view that the charges leveled against her by the Bribery Commission are fake. What do you have to say about this and do you agree?
I have not been following the recent charges against her, but at the time I thought that there were several things Dr Bandaranayake had done that were unsuitable for a Chief Justice and which needed investigation. However, given that the Bribery Commission has informed COPE in several instances that matters we brought to their notice do not warrant indictments, I wish they used the same standards they seem to be applying to Dr Bandaranayake in all cases.
5. Obviously both Pillay and a large chunk of the international community view the impeachment as a sort of ‘witch trial’ with Pillay herself expressing serious concern over the impeachment. What do you think the international community viewed the impeachment this way?
This question relates I assume to the impeachment itself, which should certainly have been better handled, if only to fulfil the ringing assertion of the PSC that ‘the appearance of bias, even if there is no actual bias’, is sufficient to taint a decision.
Unfortunately the Standing Order about impeachments is absurd, and indeed the Leader of the Opposition informed me they had introduced it to frighten Neville Samarakoon and, after he was frightened, they did not introduce what should have been the more important part relating to investigation. Typical of the amateur approach of both government and opposition is that, though all agreed at the time that the Standing Order needed to be changed, nothing was done about this. My pleas to the Speaker to reconvene the Committee on Standing Orders to make necessary adjustments fell on deaf ears, so I have now introduced some amendments myself.
Typical too is that these have not been noticed by journalists, even though they are the most important intervention with regard to improving parliamentary practice that has occurred in several decades. But I suspect no one else is interested in process and structures, given we no longer understand what Parliament is about, after the introduction of this ridiculous hybrid Constitution.
6. Isn’t it fair to say that rightly or wrongly the impeachment of the Chief Justice has only worsened the perception within the international community that the Government is not committed to human rights and Rule of Law?
It has certainly worsened perceptions, but I am not sure we should think of international perceptions, instead of concerning ourselves more with what our own people feel, think and expect.
7. The PSC did not grant Dr. Bandaranayke sufficient time to answer charges against her and even summoned witnesses in her absence so that she did not het the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. Do you think the President regrets the behavior of the PSC , when it is he that has to deal with the international community now ?
I think there was a lot of pressure on him to expedite action because there were all sorts of allegations with regard to Dr Bandaranayaka obstructing government legislation. These were absurd, because for instance the judgment she gave on the Divineguma Bill, which caused such heartburn, was later seen as perfectly sensible – though government failed to follow the Constitutional provisions required for Bills that should be passed with a two thirds majority.
The President should regret the behavior of the PSC, not because of needing to deal with the world at large, but because the desired results could have been achieved more cleanly, with structural changes made to ensure that Chief Justices did not wield excessive arbitrary powers. I had in fact written previously about the need to introduce Rules, and even now I am sorry that this is not being done. The Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission promised to meet me in this regard, given suggestions I had made when I convened the Task Force on expediting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, but I fear he has not given this priority.
8. Several independent commentators are of the view that the former CJ is being persecuted even after the impeachment. Isn’t the apparent persecution she is facing working counter to the government in the eyes of the international community and wouldn’t it be more prudent in the interests of our international image to simply’ let her be’?
Again, I am not sure prudence in terms of our international image should be more important than doing the right thing by our own citizens. I have not been following the recent developments, but in principle I think there are more important problems the Bribery Commission should deal with.