Justice Minister, UN official in heated argument

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson Vs Sri Lanka Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, had a heated argument with visiting UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson, QC, over UN intervention here as regards promotion and protection of human rights.

Sri Lanka in December 2015 extended a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

Emmerson began a five-day official visit here on July 10 to gather first-hand information about what the UN described as post-war initiatives in the area of counter-terrorism and assess how they affect the people.

Minister Rajapaksa strongly questioned the UN official resulting in an unprecedented fiery argument early this week, well informed sources said, adding that the meeting took place at the Justice Ministry.

Sources said Emmerson had been somewhat taken aback by Dr. Rajapakse’s outburst though the UN knew of his opposition to UN intervention here. Emmerson warned Minister Rajapakse that he would publicly announce the latter’s refusal to cooperate with the UN. The minister said that he was free to call media briefings.

Emmerson will discuss the situation at a media briefing at UN building at 202 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 today at 3.00 pm. Sources said that reference would certainly be made to recent ‘clash’ with the Justice Minister.

Sources said that Minister Rajapakse had called the UN stand here unfair and unacceptable. Emmerson reported the incident to the UN.

A senior Foreign Ministry official yesterday confirmed the incident at the Justice Ministry.

A UN statement issued from Geneva before Emmerson’s arrival here quoted top British lawyer as having said, “I will seek to provide assistance in the discussion of the country’s counter-terrorism policy and legal framework as well as in the preparation and drafting of relevant legislative acts, with a view to ensuring that measures taken by the Government are in compliance with international human rights law.”

Minister Rajapakse recently called for reviewing Sri Lanka’s decision to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the wake of those who had been demanding abolition of the legislation having to adopt draconian measures to counter terrorism. Sri Lanka has repeatedly assured the international community that the PTA would be repealed to pave the way for Anti-Terrorism Law conforming to international norms.

Emmerson also had high-level meetings with representatives of the Government, including the ministries responsible for foreign affairs, law and order, Southern development, justice, defence, finance, media, prison reforms, rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu religious affairs.

The Special Rapporteur met law enforcement officials, members of parliament, members of specialised police departments, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission.

Emmerson interviewed persons suspected or convicted of terrorist crimes now in detention.

Emmerson was the former senior counsel for the Independent Inquiry into child abuse headed by Prof. Alexis Jay. Emmerson quit the Independent Inquiry late last year following an allegation of sexual assault in a lift against him. However, Emmerson was fully cleared by his law chambers, Matrix following an independent inquiry into the allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Sources said that Emmerson had also met representatives of the international community, lawyers, academics, and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.

Government sources said that the recent flare-up took place in the wake of Minister Rajapakse rejecting controversial report prepared by Ms. Mónica Pinto, the former Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers following her visit to Sri Lanka and presented to Geneva Council by her successor, Diego García-Sayán. The report reiterated call for foreign judges and other experts in accountability mechanisms set up in accordance with Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in Oct 2015.

In addition to Pinto, the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the SR on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence visited Sri Lanka.

The Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention are expected to visit Sri Lanka.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)