The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, expressed today serious concern about the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the recent attacks against lawyers who have been fighting for the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.
According to information received by the independent expert, attacks and threats against members of the judiciary and lawyers, as well as interference in their work, have dramatically increased over the past few months.
“The recent steps taken by the executive and legislative towards impeaching the Chief Justice appear to be the culminating point of a series of attacks against the judiciary for asserting its independence,” Ms. Knaul said.
On 8 December, a Parliamentary Select Committee established to investigate and report to the Parliament on the allegations levelled against the Chief Justice, found her guilty of three out of the five charges which it investigated.
“It is of high concern to me that the procedure for the removal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is extremely politicized and characterized by lack of transparency, lack of clarity in the proceedings, as well as lack of respect for the fundamental guarantees of due process and fair trial,” said Ms. Knaul.
“I would like to reiterate that article 107 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, read together with Standing Orders of Parliament, is contrary to international human rights law, as already noted by the Human Rights Committee in 2003,” she stressed. “Modifying the Constitution is essential to prevent political persecution of independent judges,” she added.
“To be compatible with both the principle of separation of powers and international human rights law norms, disciplinary proceedings against judges should be conducted by independent commissions and guarantee full respect for due process and fair trial,” the UN expert stressed.
“I urge again the authorities of Sri Lanka to reconsider the impeachment of the Chief Justice due to the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees and to ensure that the judiciary can operate free from external pressures, threats or any interference,” added the UN Special Rapporteur.
Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.