An Oral Statement to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organization with general consultative status
September 20, 2010
Document id: ALRC-COS-15-16-2010
Speaker: Norman Voss
Thank you, Mr. President,
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) is extremely concerned by the giant steps down the path to autocracy being taken in Sri Lanka, and the serious impact that this will have on human rights.
Despite the recent end to the conflict, the country now faces its darkest days. On September 8th, 2010, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was railroaded through Parliament, preventing the filing of objections with the Supreme Court or public debate through a referendum.
This unconstitutional amendment removes the two-term limit on the incumbent Executive President, granting him total immunity, while changes to the 17th Amendment bring all public institutions under his direct control.
The amendment removes key powers from the Elections Commission, eliminating future free and fair elections. It greatly damages the independence of the judiciary and clearly spells the end of liberal democracy in Sri Lanka. It abolishes the Constitutional Council, allowing the President to control all public appointments. The Sri Lankan representative has tried to sweep this under the carpet by claiming it is an internal matter. Amazingly, he admits that this will “simplify the appointment of commissions.” This it will, by sacrificing their independence.
It is expected that corruption will now flourish, key freedoms will be greatly restricted and grave human rights violations will increase further, with even less prospect for justice to be served or impunity prevented.
The ALRC has made written submissions to this session concerning Myanmarii, highlighting the irrelevance of efforts so far by the Council, given this country’s lack of functioning normative or institutional frameworks. Recommendations that may be pertinent in other settings are in the case of Myanmar meaningless.
What then can be done in the 2011 Review to allow the Council to have any positive impact in the majority of countries in Asia, in which human rights are widely abused, notably authoritarian countries such as Sri Lanka or Myanmar? Clearly, the exponents of a cooperation-only approach are either, at best deluded, or even insincere about their support for human rights. The ALRC urges the Council to take the opportunity of the upcoming Review to find innovative ways to engender tangible improvements on the ground and abandon its current appeasement of even the worst violators.
i) The 18th Amendment Bill should have required a special majority of Parliament together with the approval of the people of Sri Lanka through a referendum. The Bill had been referred to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka to decide on its constitutionality. Without allowing sufficient time for the filing of objections by the public, the Supreme Court sent its decision to the Speaker of the House stating that the amendment can be passed with a two thirds majority, meaning that no referendum was needed. The ALRC strongly disagrees with the Supreme court’s decision and is of the opinion that the Bill is, in toto, unconstitutional. In brief, the Bill proposed:
a) the removal of the two-term limit imposed on a person who has held the office of President, by Article 31(2),
b) to abolish the Constitutional Council and set up a Parliamentary Council whose observations would be sought in making appointments to the offices and Commissioners mentioned in the 17th Amendment;
c) to take away certain powers of the Elections Commission;
d) the inclusion of several provisions of a transitional character;
e) to repeal Chapter VIIA and amendment to Article 107 of the Constitution through the provisions in Clause 4, which would greatly damage the independence of the Judiciary;
f) to amend Article 155G, which is in conflict with Article 55. This will have an impact of diminishing the independence of the Police
Further details at: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2805/
ii) Please see the ALRC’s written submissions on Myanmar here: http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/hrc15/630/ and http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/hrc15/631/
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About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.