by Maheesha Mudugamuwa
A hybrid war crimes tribunal, recommended by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September 2015, was not feasible in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe said yesterday.
The PM was speaking at the inauguration of the National Law Week 2017- Colombo Segment at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) auditorium. The event was attended by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, newly appointed Chief Justice Priyasath Dep and other distinguished invitees.
However, President Maithripala Sirisena was absent though he had been invited by the BASL.
CJ Dep made his first formal public appearance and speech as the head of the judiciary. The PM congratulated CJ Dep and described him as a person who deserved the office of Chief Justice.
The Prime Minister said a call for a hybrid court system in 2015 had been made as the international community lacked faith in the judiciary at that time.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that during last two years the government had restored the independence of the judiciary and, therefore,at present there was no need for a hybrid court.
Even if a constitutional amendment was moved to set up a hybrid court it had to be passed by a two-thirds majority and approved by people at a referendum, the PM said. Such a course of action was not politically feasible, he noted.
However, at his press conference in Geneva on 16 September 2015, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasised that the establishment of a hybrid court was a prerequisite for completing the process of bringing to justice those who had allegedly committed war crimes during the final phase of the civil war.
The 19-page ‘probe’ report released on 16 September urged Sri Lanka to “adopt a specific legislation establishing an ad hoc hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, with its own independent investigative and prosecuting organ, defence office and witness and victims protection programme, and resources so that it can promptly and effectively try those responsible.”
However, PM Wickremesinghe stressed yesterday that now the issue was what Sri Lanka would adopt by way of an alternative to the hybrid court.
He said the government was looking at a new mechanism. “We are now considering a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as it could be able to solve many of issues,” he added.
The Premier highlighted a South African style TRC for Sri Lanka as it seemed to be accepted generally by all parties.
In addition, at the moment the government was negotiating with the European Union (EU) of regaining of GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka, he said.
Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said the BASL acted in an exemplary manner at a time some other professional outfits were holding patients to ransom to win their demands. The BASL was offering its service to the public to protect their rights.
The Minister noted that the government had successfully addressed one of the two most serious allegations leveled against the state two years before by restoring the independence of the judiciary and taking steps to solve the issue of laws delays.
The government had implemented several legal reforms and established the Victims and Witnesses Protection Authority, the need for which had been felt for the last four decades or so. At present the Justice Ministry was engaged in solving another serious issue in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, the Minister said, noting that there were no official versions of the statutes in Tamil language. Therefore, the Ministry had taken steps to translate five important statutes, namely Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Procedure Code, the Judicature Act, Penal Code and the Evidence Ordinance, Minister Rajapakshe said. “We also hope to have few more acts to be translated into Tamil in the future,” he added.