Lawyers back Sri Lanka suspension

Commonwealth Lawyers Association

– Submitted by Walter Jayawardhana –

THE Law Society of South Africa on Tuesday came out in support of a resolution by Commonwealth lawyers calling for the suspension of Sri Lanka, which is due to host the 54-nation body’s next summit meeting, in November.

The resolution said the Sri Lankan government had violated the rule of law when it unlawfully impeached its former chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake.

Sri Lanka will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting from November 15-17 in Colombo. President Mahinda Rajapaksa will become chairman of the organisation.

The president of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Mark Stephens, said being a member of the Commonwealth was a “badge of respectability”. To award Mr Rajapaksa the status of chair was “effectively to reward a state’s miscreant behaviour.”

The resolution was taken unanimously last week in Cape Town by about 900 lawyers, judges and law teachers from across the 54 countries that make up the Commonwealth.

It called on Commonwealth members to suspend Sri Lanka from the councils of the Commonwealth and to reconsider holding of the next heads of government meeting in Sri Lanka. This would tarnish the reputation of the Commonwealth and “call into grave question the value, credibility and future of the Commonwealth”, the resolution said.

It would also “be seen as condoning the action of governments who violate its principles, and by its silence will undermine the moral authority it purports to have in protecting” rights.

The impeachment of Judge Bandaranayake, the country’s first woman chief justice, was found by Sri Lanka’s court of appeal to be unlawful — a decision ignored by its government.

It is also reportedly widely believed that the impeachment was politically motivated after Sri Lanka’s highest court, its supreme court, would not approve several government bills.

Her impeachment was followed by a series of transfers of judges and magistrates who were reportedly her supporters.

The resolution also referred to “gross and repeated harassment” of Sri Lankan lawyers who had defended the rule of law and judicial independence.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka condemned the “violation of the rules of natural justice” in the way in which the impeachment was handled.

The Law Society of SA’s co-chairpersons, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu and David Bekker, urged the South African government “not to remain silent in the face of these violations”.

The Commonwealth secretariat’s spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

 (Courtesy: BD Mail)