Promptly rejecting proposals by a powerful local consultative body for an internationalised judicial mechanism to probe credible allegations of war crimes, Sri Lanka Wednesday firmly said it would not allow foreign judges sitting in any domestic judicial proceedings.
Addressing the weekly post-cabinet media briefing, Sri Lanka’s cabinet spokesman, Minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters in Colombo that the UN special envoys and including the UN Human Rights chief have agreed to this government’s unwavering position of not to include foreign judges in domestic war crimes probes.
“Any organisation or group can recommend whatever it wants, but the government has its own position. The government’s stand is that there will be no foreign representatives. Foreign representatives can take part only to advise and provide technical assistance, but the sitting judges will be Sri Lankans”, he told reporters on Wednesday.
The government-appointed Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism (CTF), which held island-wide consultations last year on the mechanisms for accountability, truth, reparations and non-recurrence, submitted its report to the government on Tuesday. Echoing the UN resolution, the report recommended for a Special Court with “active participation” of foreign judges and investigators.
Bearing in mind the need for active international participation – from judges to the Office of the Special Counsel, investigators and staff, it said that there must be “clear criteria and justifications for the positions that internationals will occupy and for the choice of internationals – especially their independence, integrity, training and experience must be ensured”.
“The Court shall ensure that there will be a majority of national judges and at least one international judge on every bench,” the CTF said.
When pointed out that the CTF appointed by the government, has presented its report with recommendations based on its nation-wide consultations, Minister Senaratne said anyone can make reports and make recommendations “but it will be the government that will decide via cabinet what to do with those reports and recommendations”.
“We are ready to examine this report, but will not agree with all its contents”.
The Minister recalled that the government in the past has repeatedly and explicitly stated its position not to involve foreign judges in domestic mechanisms.
“We have stated our position repeatedly and the UN envoys have agreed to it. Even UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who visited here agreed to it and expressed his consent,” Minister Rajitha Senaratne revealed.
It is for the first time the government publicly claims that the UN, which passed resolution a consensual resolution in October 2015 calling for a judicial mechanism with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators, has agreed to drop the involvement of foreign judges in the domestic probe.
The UN Human Rights Chief visited Sri Lanka in February last year and said that new government was wavering on its human rights commitments despite coming to power on a promise to ensure accountability to justice the year before. Before winding up his visit, he also said in Colombo that the international community suggested international participation in a war crimes investigation because Sri Lanka’s judicial system had failed its people and it was necessary to build trust in any accountability process.
Health Minister Senaratne said even he was not in agreement with the Colombo High Court ruling to acquit all Naval officials in connection with assassination of former Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Nadarajah Raviraj, but that did not warrant foreign judges to sit in domestic judicial proceedings.