U.N. human rights boss slams Sri Lanka over chief justice

GENEVA Fri Jan 18, 2013 12:14pm EST

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GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay has accused Sri Lanka of "gross interference" in the judiciary, warning that its removal of the chief justice could jeopardize efforts to prosecute war crimes.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a close ally as chief justice on Tuesday, two days after sacking the previous top judge for impeachment despite opposition from the Supreme Court.

"The removal of the Chief Justice through a flawed process - which has been deemed unconstitutional by the highest courts of the land - is, in the High Commissioner's view, gross interference in the independence of the judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka," Pillay's spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.

Mohan Peiris, who replaces Shirani Bandaranayake as chief justice, has been active in Sri Lanka's delegations defending its record at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The government has resisted calls at the 47-member state forum to set up an international inquiry to investigate massacres of civilians during its three-decade civil war, which ended in May 2009. A U.N.-sponsored panel has said that the army committed large-scale abuses and was responsible for many civilian deaths in the final stages of the war against the separatist Tamil Tigers.

"This raises obvious concerns about his independence and impartiality, especially when handling allegations of serious human rights violations by the authorities," Colville said.

"We are also concerned that the impeachment process has caused bitter divisions within Sri Lanka, and that it sends an ominous signal about the government's commitment to accountability and reconciliation."

Pillay's office received "alarming reports" on Friday from the country's independent law bar about a "series of death threats, acts of intimidation and even a couple of reported murder attempts" against lawyers who have been supporting former chief justice Bandaranayake, the U.N. spokesman said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by David Goodman)

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Comments (1)
ChrisKay wrote:
This is a very serious concern to all who believe in and expect rule of law to prevail in all situations, but in Sri Lanka there is no such thing as laws to protect individual’s civil rights let alone anything else. Mr. Rajapakse, his siblings and sons and those politicians of the government have all turned out to be terrorists themselves. This reign of terror has to stop at any cost and the International Community has a moral right to protect the humanity. It is unthinkable or unimaginable to note as to how moral negligence of China and Russia to be continuing to protect these criminals. Rajapakse and his siblings could kill anybody and just getaway and the police cannot do a damned thing about what goes on. Now Rajapakse has appointed his former point man as the Chief Justice (CJ) leaving the last line of defence heavily compromised in other words Rajapakse is the Judge, Jury, and Executioner. If the (former) CJ Shirani Bandaranayeke and her family is to be harmed by Rajapakse’s goons, then what will happen? It should be sooner than later that the International Community should take a stand and decide how to go about taking this criminal out to protect humanity and let citizens of Sri Lanka live without fear of being killed. Every murder that takes place in Sri Lanka is politically connected and everybody knows of that – including the wide Diplomatic Community.

Jan 19, 2013 1:15am EST  --  Report as abuse
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