Chairman of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka Justice Priyantha Perera spoke to the Daily Mirror on the prevailing Human Rights situation in the country, the relaxing of Emergency regulations and the erosion of independence of the judiciary.
Q: In the past we have seen that although a number of recommendations have been made by the HRC not all of these have been implemented. Under your tenure what changes do you intend on making to ensure that these recommendations are implemented?
After a certain process if parties do not comply we will report them to the Supreme Court as a matter of contempt and we are also looking for some changes to the Amendment.
This is one of the most crucial problems we are facing today, under the law we have two sets of powers one is to make a recommendation and the other is to make an order. Strictly reading on the face of the statute; once you make a recommendation the parties involved are bound to carry out the recommendations made. If they fail, there is provision for us to report this matter to the President and then to Parliament, which is a long process—this is exactly the reason why upto this point most of the recommendations have not been implemented.
We have now done some rethinking and once a recommendation has been made, if that recommendation has not been carried out by the parties we have decided to summon the parties before the commission again and ask the parties concerned the reason why these recommendations have not been carried out. If they have a good reason may be we can review, because it could be that we have had wrong information. But if they don’t have a valid reason not to comply with the recommendation, then we have decided to make an order—that that recommendation must be carried out, and if they act in violation of that order we can report this to the Supreme Court as a matter of contempt.
In point of fact we have had a couple of instances where we have resorted to this procedure and it has worked. Besides we are also considering the possibility of suggesting an amendment to the law.
Q: What are the changes you intend on making to the Act?
Changes to ensure some
sanction for the noncompliance with recommendations
As it stands when you look at the law there is no sanction set out in it that compels a person to carry out the recommendation. In respect of an order which is not complied with we have the ability to report the parties on contempt but when it comes to a recommendation the only avenue is to report it to the President, who has to take some steps with Parliament. To implement that is problematic because the President is also overworked and therefore it is not a very salutatory procedure, which is why we proposed to the President and Parliament to amend the law to give affect to the recommendations straight away.
Q: Considering the number of complaints the HRC is getting, the significant backlog and the lengthy procedure of investigating these complaints and thereafter reassessing them as you detailed above; does the HRC have the necessary resources to carry out this task effectively?
At the moment I am unable to answer your question because I have been in office only a few months.
The officers are working satisfactorily. The back log is due to certain other reasons.I would say it is good to increase the recruits but at this moment I don’t want to interfere, in this because I think that the work is going on satisfactorily. If we clear the backlog which is about a 1000 cases, we should be alright.
Q:What are the reasons for the backlog?
The commission has not been operating for some years now and there was nobody that could have supervised the functioning of the commission.
Therefore now, in order to expedite the disposal of these arrears, we have decided to recruit certain judges from the Supreme Court, the Appeal Court and Minor Judiciary to deal with the backlog of cases and to make payments on a piecemeal basis.
Q: What percentage of these cases has to do with the last stages of the war?
I am unable to give you a breakdown but these figures relate to the whole country.
And I would say a fair amount of it is to do with the last stages of the war. So I want to pick some of the more serious cases and give them to senior judges to make recommendations.
Q: When it comes to the work of commissions, the issue that is most often raised is whether the commission is impartial. What would you say to these skeptics?
I think that is an allegation that has to be rejected in total, because those who make these allegations are misinformed.
This question was posed to me when I went to Geneva recently. And some of the top people in the Asia pacific region spoke to me in this regard and I found that they were misinformed. One individual asked me “how can your commission be an independent commission when the appointing authority is the President and he can also dismiss the commission?” I told him that this was a totally false claim, and pointed out to him that in the act the President is backed by the 2/3rds Majority in Parliament and therefore democracy is maintained and he appoints but had no power to dismiss.
However in the case of misconduct by a member of the Commission or the Chairman there is a certain procedure to be adopted, as in the case of the impeachment of judges.
Q:Despite the end of the war the Emergency Regulations are still in force and many feel that they are no longer necessary. In terms of fundamental rights, what is your view on this matter?
I can say that at present there is no abuse of emergency regulations.
My own understanding is that the government is of the view that the emergency regulations have to be systematically reduced, but it cannot be done overnight. They are gradually reducing the emergency regulations that are obnoxious.
Q: What is your basis for saying that there is no abuse of the Emergency Regulations?
I’m not saying that 100 percent there is no abuse of the Emergency regulations, I can’t say that. But now at present they are doing away with the regulations gradually.
Q: What investigations are ongoing into the incident at the Free Trade Zone recently?
We have taken to task the Director and Deputy Director of the Colombo North Hospital for interfering in the investigations of the Commission.
When one of our officials went there, they were not allowed access. We summoned those concerned and asked why they acted in this manner and they explained that their superiors were away and therefore we let them go on humanitarian grounds. We asked them to apologize in writing to the Commission, which they did.
Q: Amnesty International has alleged that the LLRC is not mandated to look into accountability; will the HRC look into matters of accountability with regards to the last stages of the war?
I don’t agree with that view about the LLRC, because they have also made certain orders of reparation.
If the HRC receives complaints with regards to the last stages of the war we will look into them and ensure that proper compensation is paid.
Q: The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has written to the government about the erosion of judicial independence of the country. As a former judge how do you feel about this international and even local loss of confidence in the judiciary?
I stand for complete independence of the judiciary and as a person who has been a part of it; I can say that in my tenure of office I have not had any occasion to complain about interference from any source.
I don’t believe that there is any interference even now, although I don’t have complete information on this. I presume some might be trying to interfere but I think the judges still value the tradition of independence and they always try to comply with that.