With the deadline given by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to the Sri Lankan Government, to grant visas for a three-member fact finding mission coming to an end at midnight yesterday, the IBAHRI is expected to go ahead with the appointment of a remote fact finding mission to probe the state of Sri Lanka’s judicial system. The International Bar Association recently expressed ‘serious concern’ over the withdrawal of visas for lawyers from its Human Rights Institute and cautioned about the appointment of a remote fact finding mission in the event the Government of Sri Lanka failed to grant visa for their second committee.
Highly placed diplomatic sources said, with the deadline having lapsed at midnight yesterday, the three-member committee comprising Mohammed Lawal Uwais – Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from 1995 until 2006, Dr. Param Coomaraswamy – Barrister from Inner Temple, Shane Keenan – London and IBA Human Rights Institute Programme Lawyer would meet in London and submit their report on the Sri Lankan situation to the Commonwealth within the next two weeks.
The IBAHRI attempted to send a fact finding mission related to the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary in Sri Lanka. The mission, headed by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice J.S. Verma, was scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from 10 February for 10 days, and was expected to meet members of the legal profession, and representatives of the government, the media and civil society. However, the Government of Sri Lanka denied visas to the three jurists, accusing them of the ‘misrepresenting’ the objective of their visit to Sri Lanka. IBAHRI denied the accusations.
Apart from Sri Lanka, Fiji is the only country to refuse visas for a fact finding mission by IBAHRI. The latter took steps to appoint a remote fact finding committee and in May 2009 submitted its report. Fiji was later kicked out from the Commonwealth Association.
The IBAHRI has previously conducted two fact-finding missions to Sri Lanka in 2001 and 2009.
The 2001 fact-finding mission was specifically convened in response to parliamentary attempts to impeach the then Chief Justice. The mission report found serious threats to the independence of the Judiciary in and called for constitutional reform to strengthen the rule of law.
The 2009 mission to Sri Lanka concluded that many of the problems identified in the 2001 report continued to affect the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka and that in some respects the situation had deteriorated significantly.
The report specifically outlined concerns regarding attacks against lawyers and severe tensions between the executive and judicial branches.
Both the 2001 and 2009 reports on Sri Lanka recommended that the procedure for impeachment proceedings should be reviewed and amended to ensure judicial, not parliamentary, supervision over judicial conduct. Both reports noted that existing impeachment procedures are subject to significant politicization and undue executive interference that severely compromise the independence of the judiciary and rule of law.
IBAHRI undertakes regular fact-finding missions to a wide range of countries to investigate issues related to the rule of law and the legal profession, and has conducted more than 40 missions since 1995. It has only ever previously been refused entry to one other country, Fiji in 2008.