U.N. expert condemns move to oust Sri Lanka’s chief justice

Gabriela Knaul

GENEVA (Reuters) – A United Nations expert on Monday criticized Sri Lanka’s move to impeach its chief justice, saying it was part of a pattern of attacks on lawyers and a bid to stop judges carrying out their work independently of politicians.

Parliament could vote next month to impeach Shirani Bandaranayake, the first woman to head Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, after she was found guilty by a parliamentary panel of financial irregularities and a failure to declare assets.

The case risks a destabilizing clash between President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and the judiciary. Opposition parties have withdrawn from the process, saying it was unfair.

Gabriela Knaul, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said the case against Bandaranayake was part of a pattern of attacks and threats against members of the judiciary and lawyers and interference in their work.

“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,” Knaul said in a statement.

“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,” she said.

A parliamentary impeachment panel found Bandaranayake guilty on three counts earlier this month. She has appealed against the decision and the United States, the United Nations and Commonwealth have all raised concerns about the process.

Knaul said article 107 of the Sri Lankan constitution, read together with Standing Orders of Parliament, contravened international human rights law and needed amending so that disciplinary proceedings against judges were conducted by independent commissions.