Tuesday, April 11, 2006

SRI LANKA: President blatantly violates constitution by appointing members to 17th Amendment commissions

April 11, 2006

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

SRI LANKA: President blatantly violates constitution by appointing members to 17th Amendment commissions

In blatant violation of Sri Lanka's constitution, President Mahindra Rajapakse took it upon himself to appoint members to the National Police Commission and the Public Service Commission. These appointments bypassed the constitutional process, which requires the appointments to be approved by the Constitutional Council. Before granting approval, the council is to examine the merits of the proposed persons, as well as take into account any public objections, thereby preventing arbitrary or political appointments. By making appointments to these commissions himself, the president is moving towards absolute power without safeguards.

In the days preceding these appointments, a drama was enacted to give the impression that the president was concerned with the delay of the appointments to the Constitutional Council. The delay comes with the lack of agreement on which minority party should appoint the third member to the council. The drama involved the president writing to the speaker of parliament to promptly resolve the problems deterring the functioning of the Constitutional Council. The very next day, the president announced appointments to the National Police Commission and Public Service Commission. These names could not have been gathered on that day; the appointments were clearly planned. It will never be known whether these appointments would have been approved by the Constitutional Council or whether any public interventions would have been made.

If the president genuinely wanted to resolve the delay in appointing the Constitutional Council and other commissions, he should have intervened with the minority parties, particularly the JVP, TNA and JHU, to get the third member appointed. As a European Union representative suggested, if these parties cannot agree on a single member, they could agree to share the time period of three years. It is clear however, that the president was not concerned with expediting the appointment to the Constitutional Council, which would then select commissioners for the various commissions under the 17th Amendment on merit. The president's action has in fact preempted the Constitutional Council.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon President Rajapakse to withdraw these appointments forthwith, and urges the appointed members to desist from accepting these appointments. The damage caused by the appointments and their acceptance will be greater than any good the commissioners contemplate doing through the commissions. Neither the commissions nor the appointments are at present legitimate. By functioning illegitimately, the significance of the commissions--which are vital to the defence of basic freedoms--will be lost.

For this reason, the AHRC impresses the need for everyone, including the international community, to unequivocally condemn these appointments and work towards the reversal of these decisions. Within the past few months the AHRC has several times noted that the Sri Lankan government is on its way to becoming a dictatorship. The present manipulation of all public institutions is a move by the executive to gain absolute power and instill fear into all areas of life. Bypassing the constitutional process in this instance can only lead to further unconstitutional and illegal acts. The reversal of these appointments is therefore crucial.

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About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

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