By Asiri Fernando
The Parliamentary Council (PC) last Friday (10) approved the President’s nominee for the post of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Chairperson, The Sunday Morning learnt.
Presidential Secretariat Director General (Legal) Harigupta Rohanadeera confirmed that retired Supreme Court Judge Rohini Perera Marasinghe, nominated by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was approved by the PC for the post.
PC member and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Kabir Hashim also confirmed that the President’s nominee was approved.
The post of HRCSL Chairperson became vacant following former Chair Dr. Jagath Balasuriya stepping down due to health reasons in November. Delays in appointing a replacement, amidst strong international scrutiny on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, drew criticism and concern from many.
Parliament sources told The Sunday Morning that the Opposition had proposed lawyers Gehan Gunatilleke and Nimalka Fernando for the vacant posts of HRCSL Chairperson and Commissioner.
Meanwhile, a senior official at the HRCSL expressed concern that a Buddhist monk may be nominated to fill the vacant post of commissioner.
“The HRCSL needs people with experience and credibility to be appointed to it. There are many qualified and credible individuals with legal and human rights-related experience that can be appointed. If a religious leader is appointed to the commission, it may discredit this institution,” the HRSCL official, who wished to remain anonymous, stated, adding that such a move may affect the international standing of the body during a crucial period.
Concerns about nominees to fill the vacant posts at the HRCSL were also raised by both the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and the Opposition in November.
The SJB and other Opposition parties had engaged the Prime Minister on the importance of credibility and the need for discussions before appointing nominees for sensitive institutions like the HRCSL and the Election Commission.
In a letter to the President, the BASL urged him to consider appointing a widely accepted person by the community to fill the vacant posts.
“Since its inception, the HRCSL has been chaired by persons who have distinguished themselves in the fields of human rights and law. Prior to 2020, the post of HRCSL Chair was always held by either retired Supreme Court judges or those who have been renowned in Sri Lanka and internationally for their professional and academic work in human rights,” the BASL stated in the letter dated 15 November.