SRI LANKA/ASIA: Preliminary observations and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers - Ms. Mónica Pinto
Colombo, 7 May 2016
At the invitation of the government, my colleague, Mr. Juan E. Méndez – the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment – and I visited Sri Lanka from 29 April to 7 May 2016 to assess the situation and remaining challenges concerning torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the independence of judges and lawyers. We would like to express our appreciation to the government for extending an invitation to visit the country, for their full cooperation during our visit, and for the efforts displayed, in particular by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to facilitate and organize official meetings. In addition, we would like to thank the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Office in Sri Lanka for supporting the preparations of the visit.
Sri Lanka is at a crucial moment in its history. While the armed conflict has ended after more than 30 years, much of the structures of a nation at war remain in place as the fabric of Sri Lankan society was left ravaged. It is now critical and urgent to replace the legal framework that allowed serious human rights violations to happen and set up sound democratic institutions and legal standards that will give effect to and protect the human rights embodied in the constitution or Sri Lanka as well as the international human rights treaties it has voluntarily ratified.
The elections of January and August 2015 brought an opening in the democratic space and the change in government has led to some promising reforms, such as the re-instatement of the Constitutional Council. Yet, more reforms are expected and necessary before the country can be considered to be on a path to sustainable democratization governed by the rule of law. There is a need to recover the momentum of reform and accelerate the process of positive change within a comprehensive and inclusive framework.
During my visit to Colombo, Anuradhapura, Jaffna and Kandy, I had the opportunity to exchange views with a number of high ranking officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Law and Order, the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, the
Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the National Police Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, Governors of the North Central, North and Central Provinces, the Judicial Service Commission, the Judges’ Training Institute, the Legal Aid Commission, as well as judges from different all tiers, the Sri Lanka Bar Association, lawyers, academics and civil society representatives. During his visit, the Special Rapporteur on torture also had the opportunity to visit a large number of detention facilities, including military camps, the details of which can be found in his statement.
I will now share some of my preliminary observations and recommendations. I will further develop my assessment in a written report, which I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2017.