President fires all cylinders in Parliament | Sunday Observer

President fires all cylinders in Parliament

President Maithripala Sirisena addresses Parliament on Wednesday.
President Maithripala Sirisena addresses Parliament on Wednesday.

Independent institutions in the country should complement the state’s war against drug mafia and not block it in an effort to protect the rights of convicted criminals, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, triggering a chain reaction from the Speaker as well as the local independent human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL).

President Sirisena said actions of the independent commissions had stood in the way to clean the country of banned and dangerous narcotics which has become a ‘national tragedy’ and the underworld which thrives on it.

Referring to the queries from the HRCSL to the Special Task Force of the police on the transfer of some inmates from the Welikada prison in Colombo to the Angunakolapelessa prison in the South he said it was a well planned ‘strategy’ to crack down on the country’s drug mafia which is centralised within the walls of the Welikada prison.

“I can say with responsibility that the Welikada prison has become the centre of illegal narcotics trade and the Justice Minister, myself along with others are in the process of taking tough measures to clean up Welikada,” he said.

While appealing for cooperation President Sirisena said, “We deployed the STF to the Angunakolapelessa prison to maximise security after transferring some hardcore criminals connected to the drug mafia there. Our Human Rights Commission which should be protecting Sri Lankans and their human rights were asking the STF Chief, why and upon whose orders, and for what reason these inmates were transferred to the Angunakolapelessa camp? They have issued a very long questionnaire!”

He said STF Chief DIG M.R. Latiff had been given a one year extension of service and to his delight the Cabinet of ministers unanimously approved the proposal, in recognition of the brave and honest service of the STF. A concerted effort is being made with the help of the Special Task Force to crack down on the underworld as well.

“When such efforts are being made the Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Council is standing in the way,” he claimed. He said the tragic deaths of the two Sri Lankan peacekeeping soldiers in Mali could have been avoided. “Had the HRCSL approved replacing the contingent to Mali sooner, it is my belief that we would not have lost the lives of these two soldiers,” he pointed out adding that the clearance for the new contingent had been delayed by six months.

He said the HRCSL had been blocking the new contingent by seeking additional proof to clear them of any war crimes charges. Due to various pressures on the UN, the HRCSL was appointed last year to vet the soldiers selected for UN peacekeeping missions overseas. Sri Lanka is one of the highest Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) to the UN. Sri Lanka’s first contribution to peacekeeping missions was in 1960.

President Sirisena also took aim at the Constitutional Council saying it had also failed to entertain the 12 nominees from him to the Higher Courts and it was a sad situation that seniority is not considered when appointing judges. “The CC is required to approve my nominees and I have forwarded a list of names from the Chief Justice,” the President charged.

The Speaker as the Head of the Constitutional Council had referred a letter to him confirming that seniority is not a factor for selections, the President noted. He said due to this stance, the judges in the higher courts and lower courts have lost hope.

In reference to the protests by certain human rights champions to the re-introduction of the death penalty the President said India, the US, and Singapore among other major countries have the death penalty and these so called human rights norms apply to only small countries such as Sri Lanka.

“I appeal the human rights organisations to help discipline this country country. Don’t stand up for the rights of dangerous drug convicts who deprive all peace loving citizens their rights, ” he said in Parliament.

Speaker defends CC

The Speaker Karu Jayasuriya making a special statement on Thursday against the President’s remarks responded, ‘seniority is one of several factors taken into consideration by the Constitutional Council when making judicial appointments.’

The procedures and guidelines adopted by the Constitutional Council in recommending and approving appointments were set out in a letter submitted by me to the President on January 2, 2019. The President stated that ‘the seniority is not at all counted’ by the Constitutional Council in considering judicial appointments, ‘this is an erroneous statement,’ he clarified.

“I wish to inform this august assembly, that each and every Judicial Officer whose appointment was recommended by the Constitutional Council was first nominated to the Council by the President. The Constitutional Council has never recommended any individual for a judicial appointment who was not a nominee of the President. I state categorically that no irregularity or injustice was committed by the Council in evaluating and recommending for judicial appointment, persons nominated to the Constitutional Council by the President.”

The Speaker also refuted that the CC has rejected 12 nominees of the President to various judicial positions. ‘In certain cases, His Excellency has proposed several nominees to fill a single judicial vacancy. But the Constitution only permits the Constitutional Council to appoint a single person to each vacant judicial appointment.’

The Speaker said, “If it was the intention of the Constitution to make judicial appointments based on seniority alone, no discretion would have been vested in the Constitutional Council.”

Hence it was only proper that multiple factors are taken into consideration when evaluating candidates for judicial appointments.

HRCSL responds...

The HRCSL in a letter signed by the Chairperson, Dr. Deepika Udagama to President Sirisena last Friday sought to clarify allegations contained in the President’s speech against the institution.

It is well recognised that it is essential that an independent commission protects the rights of all groups of citizens in the country. This includes even groups of people who have been marginalised and rejected from society, since the fundamental mark of a democratic civilized society is guaranteeing humanity. Thus, it is a misconception to interpret the Commission presenting facts regarding the rights of prisoners and the types of punishments, in accordance with human rights law, as an attempt by the Commission to protect criminals.

In the past three years, we have worked tirelessly to build respect for and trust in the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. As a result of that the Human Rights Commission was awarded international recognition in 2018 by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). We are disheartened and discouraged by the unjust criticism. We appreciate any just critique and consider it to be a step for growth and betterment,which we believe will serve the country better.