In March this year Sri Lanka will report back to the UN Human Rights Council on its implementation of Resolution 30/1 which it co-sponsored in October 2015. This report back will be important as it will determine whether or not international scrutiny of the country on human rights issues will continue or come to an end.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has made an initial announcement in parliament that the new Leader of the Opposition would be former president Mahinda Rajapaksa of the SLFP/UPFA. However, this has been challenged by the TNA whose leader R Sampanthan previously held the position and who has not been removed from this position. This has led to a situation where there are currently two Leaders of the Opposition similar to the situation of Sri Lanka having two Prime Ministers in the recent past! The National Peace Council believes that the position of opposition leader cannot be ignored by those who are concerned with political morality and adherence to traditions, conventions and the rule of law.
The restoration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to his position as Prime Minister by President Maithripala Sirisena has brought to an end seven weeks of political crisis in which the country did not have a functioning government. As articulated by the Prime Minister himself, most of the people of this country joined together to protect the constitution, democracy, and the rights of the people. They joined this fight on behalf of their country and democracy without any personal gain. The National Peace Council wishes to appreciate the apex courts of the judiciary which proved their mettle and contributed immensely to bringing the political crisis to an end.
The political crisis that commenced with President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dismiss Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues. The sticking point at present is that the President is repeatedly stating both in public and private that he cannot work together with former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and will therefore not appoint him again as Prime Minister. The parliamentary majority has made it clear through written and verbal statements that their choice is indeed former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. On the other hand, the President is asserting his authority as the elected President to make his own choice of Prime Minister. His appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister was a controversial choice which led to political chaos which political analysts have identified as akin to a political coup albeit a non-violent one. In this context it is necessary to find a solution that is both constitutional and just.
For the second successive time a motion of no-confidence against the recently appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was passed in parliament despite the disruptive conduct of members of the recently appointed government. On both occasions President Maithripala Sirisena has declined to act on this no-confidence motion saying he is not satisfied with the process. The scenes of violence in parliament that were broadcast on the mass media have shocked the conscience of people. The National Peace Council is appalled at the manner in which chairs were thrown, unarmed policemen assigned to protect the Speaker Hon. Karu Jayasuriya were assaulted and even the Holy Bible was flung as a weapon.
The threat to the integrity of parliament has receded with the unanimous Supreme Court decision to impose a stay order on the presidential decree to dissolve parliament. The court has stated that it will give its final determination on December 7 after hearing the arguments for and against the constitutionality of the president’s actions more fully. The National Peace Council welcomes this judicial decision that seeks to ensure that transitions will take place within the framework of the Rule of Law and the Constitution.
The recent actions of President Maithripala Sirisena, in particular the abrupt sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe on October 26, proroguing Parliament in an attempt to engineer crossovers to the newly appointment Prime Minister’s side to enable him to prove majority support in the House, and the subsequent dissolution of Parliament on November 10 have plunged Sri Lanka into serious political and economic crises.
The dismissal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe following the withdrawal of the SLFP headed by President Maithripala Sirisena from the government alliance has plunged the country into a political crisis. The president has appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister. The changing of governments and leaders is part and parcel of democracy. But due process needs to be followed, the constitution must not be not violated and the Rule of Law must prevail when such changes take place. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has contested his dismissal, and the appointment of a new Prime Minister, on the grounds that it does not conform to the 19th Amendment to the constitution. The legality of the Prime Minister’s dismissal needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court.
The passage of legislation establishing an Office for Reparations is another significant step forward in the transitional justice process aimed at healing the wounds of war and bringing a lasting solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. In October 2015 the Government of Sri Lanka committed itself before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to embark upon a path of national reconciliation while meeting international standards. The government pledges included setting up an Office of Missing Persons, a Truth Commission, an Office for Reparations and a Special Court. The time period given to Sri Lanka comes to an end in March 2019.
The transitional justice process agreed upon by the government with the international community in October 2015 with the co-sponsoring of Resolution 30/1 of the UN Human Rights Council continues to be a highly contested one within Sri Lanka. The government is showing sharp internal divisions on the issue of accountability for past human rights violations that the UNHRC resolution requires. There is danger of a regression that will once again bring Sri Lanka into conflict with the international community.