Friday Forum deeply concened about recent appointments to Human Rights Commission
The Friday Forum is an informal gathering of public spirited persons who are dedicated to promoting peace and development in Sri Lanka within a framework of democracy, social justice and pluralism. To that end, the Forum has, from time to time, made interventions regarding matters of public concern. This statement too is made in the spirit of democratic engagement through the articulation of our views on matters of vital importance to national life.
The Friday Forum wishes to express its deep concern about recent appointments made to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, details of which were carried in newspaper reports. We are concerned about two important dimensions relating to the appointments: first, the process by which the appointments were made and secondly, the suitability of some appointees to serve on the Commission.
First, there is no transparency regarding the process by which the appointees were selected. We understand that the opposition did not participate in the process. While we can fault the opposition for its non-participation, that does not cure the very unsatisfactory nature of the process by which members of independent institutions are to be appointed under the controversial 18th Amendment to the Constitution that was rushed through parliament as an urgent Bill. The "Parliamentary Council", that replaced the more representative and independent Constitutional Council created by the 17th Amendment, is hamstrung by the fact that the President may only seek its observations.
While recognizing that the 18th Amendment is now law, we yet wish to express our steadfast opposition to the abolition of the Constitutional Council; what was required was its strengthening and certainly not its abolition. We are convinced that as long as the present arbitrary process of appointments to independent institutions is in operation, public faith and confidence in those bodies will be minimal.
In our opinion, the only way to provide assurances to the public, even in spite of faulty procedure, is to make every effort to appoint well qualified persons of high public standing to independent commissions. From a democratic perspective, the hand of the government will be strengthened if it does so. Unfortunately, the suitability of some of the recent appointees to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) is highly questionable. We understand that among the five appointees are a former Inspector General of Police (IGP), a former Government Analyst and a medical practitioner. We wish to question what human rights protection experience and credentials they bring to the Human Rights Commission. In short, the criteria that may have been used for selection is highly suspect.
We seriously question the suitability of those who have served in the police or the armed forces to serve as members of the Human Rights Commission. A large proportion of complaints received by the HRC are against excesses by the police or the armed forces. Victims of such excesses may be reluctant to come before the HRC for fear of breach of confidentiality and reprisals and, more importantly, of lack of impartiality. After all, justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.
We note that the HRC was downgraded a few years ago by the UN from Grade A to Grade B mainly due to questions about its independence. It was a recognition that Sri Lanka has failed to adhere to the norms of independence and competence required by the Paris Principles relating to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) adopted by the General Assembly. Those Principles are today used the world over as the common standard to measure the effectiveness of human rights institutions. The problematic nature of the appointment process established by the 18th Amendment and the questionable appointments made recently can only worsen the standing of the HRC.
It is in the best interests of the people and the government of Sri Lanka to restore confidence in the HRC and other independent institutions.
On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens consisting of;
Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Rt. Rev. Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam, Dr. G. Usvatte Arrachchi, Dr. A. C. Viswalingam, Ms. Suriya Wickramasinghe, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgarmar, Mr. Lanka Nesiah, Dr. Cameena Gunaratne, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Ms. Damaris Wickramasekera, Mr. Prashan de Visser, Mr. H. Wijeyanandana, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chettey, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. J. C.