South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

 The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) yesterday called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to abide by the Constitution and its international obligations in peacefully resolving the current political crisis, and for all political leaders to commit to respect for human rights and the rule of law. 

To this end, President Maithripala Sirisena should reconvene Parliament to end the constitutional crisis in line with the rule of law and democratic norms.

The ICJ urged the Government to deliver on its commitment to the transitional justice process, including by holding those responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable, and complying with the obligations set out in United Nations Human Rights Council Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1.

It is with grave concern that the ICJ has observed the unfolding of events in Sri Lanka since the evening of 26 October 2018.

Following the withdrawal of the United People’s Freedom Alliance from the National Unity Government, President Maithripala Sirisena, in an unexpected move, appointed former President and Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

These actions have transpired in disregard of safeguards set out in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which limit the power of the President to remove the Prime Minister at will.

The amendment spells out specific instances during which the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka ceases to hold office under the law.

The ICJ is concerned at the President’s move to prorogue Parliament until 16 November in what appears to be an effort to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of his actions. The move has exacerbated political tensions.

“The ICJ is alarmed that Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has yet to be held accountable for the well-documented human rights violations committed during his previous tenure, has been appointed Prime Minister – in apparent violation of the Constitution,” said ICJ Asia Pacific Director Frederick Rawski.

Incidents of violence and the takeover of government-controlled media by supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa raise fears of an imminent return to the human rights violations and abusive practices which were widespread during his term.

ICJ also noted with concern ongoing crackdowns on the media and other attacks on human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The ICJ stressed that the removal of the Prime Minister in violation of the law or constitutional provisions would constitute a violation of Sri Lanka’s commitments to the international community, set out in UN Human Rights Council resolutions in 2015 and 2017, to strengthen good governance and protect democratic institutions.

The ICJ also expressed concern that political instability, or the return of an unrepentant and unaccountable Mahinda Rajakpaksa to political power, would endanger progress made on fulfilling Sri Lanka’s commitments to press forward with transitional justice processes and its legal obligations to ensure accountability for past human rights violations and abuses, as set out in both resolutions.

“The failure to address past abuses and to fully implement UN Human Rights Council Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1 has helped set the stage for the current political turmoil and the possible return of an authoritarian figure who has proven his disrespect for human rights and the rule of law over and over,” said Rawski.

“The Human Rights Council will be watching closely to assess whether Sri Lanka is in breach of its commitments. Any serious threat to progress on human rights accountability will compel the establishment of an independent accountability mechanism,” he added.


Updated On:  31 October 2018