by Namini Wijedasa
The outgoing chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Radhika Coomaraswamy has warned President Mahinda Rajapakse that Sri Lanka will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself before international treaty bodies if the country does not speedily reactivate the Commission once its members leave on April 3.
Funding bodies have already told the outgoing Commission, informally, that they will not provide financing for vital activities until a new commission is set up.
Coomaraswamy — who is leaving for New York to take over as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict — has reminded President Rajapakse that the HRC’s five commissioners will leave next week at the end of their term. She has called for new members to be appointed as soon as possible, saying that, without them, the HRC cannot issue recommendations and summons or finalise inquiries.
“There will be a real crisis,” she stresses. “It may be necessary to consult lawyers to see what can be done in the interim.”
The HRC is the latest victim of an all-round political failure to reappoint the Constitutional Council, which is responsible for nominating members to the independent commissions. The Public Service Commission and the National Police Commission have lapsed; the three member Judicial Service Commission is functioning with one member: the Election Commission was never appointed.
“The Constitutional Council must be appointed as soon as possible for the sake of the smooth running of the HRC,” Coomaraswamy said. “In addition, the Government of Sri Lanka will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself before international treaty bodies.”
The decision of funding agencies to withhold assistance for the HRC’s strategic plan pending the constitution of a new commission has serious consequences for ongoing projects, Coomaraswamy says. One of them is a programme to clear a backlog of complaints, for which the HRC has already hired retired judges.
“We cannot arbitrarily discontinue their services,” she asserts. “The Treasury may have to release funds to continue with that programme and we hope to consult with Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on these issues. We may also have to speak to the UNDP to ensure that funding is continued.”
Coomaraswamy also warns that the HRC is in a legally tenuous position. “Though it is constituted under the 17th Amendment, its powers and functions are set out by statute,” she elaborates. “Therefore, it is often treated by the Treasury and the Courts as a public enterprise or a government department.” The HRC must be given the legal protection of a fully independent commission, she states, recommending that the necessary constitutional amendments be passed through Parliament.
The other commissioners are Deepika Udagama, N Selvakkumaran, Cressida Senanayake and A Zainudeen. When they took office in March 2003, these members formulated a strategic plan for the HRC. Coomaraswamy says they managed to implement much of it. [Source: Island]
[TamilWeek Mar 26, 2006]