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Storm at the HRCSL: Appoint those who understand human rights: HRCSL Chairperson

Storm at the HRCSL: Appoint those who understand human rights: HRCSL Chairperson

10 Apr 2023 | BY Buddhika Samaraweera

  • Alleges that some commissioners do not attend regularly
  • Three commissioners seek audience with President

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Chairperson, retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Rohini Marasinghe yesterday (9) told The Daily Morning that appointment of individuals who have little or no understanding of human rights as HRCSL Commissioners did little to further the human rights situation in the country.

Marsinghe’s statement comes in the wake of a crisis unfolding between three Commissioners of the HRCSL and its Head.

Last week, HRCSL Commissioners, namely, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Dr. Nimal Karunasiri, and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera had written to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, accusing Marasinghe of taking decisions at her discretion without listening to the opinions of other members.

When contacted by The Daily Morning to inquire about the allegation, Marasinghe said that the cause of such problematic situations is the appointment of those who have no understanding of human rights as HRCSL Commissioners.

“What I would tell the President is that those who have a proper understanding of human rights should be appointed to the Commission. It is when such appointments are not made that these kinds of situations arise. They (Dr. Nanayakkara, Dr. Karunasiri and Piyarathana Thera) know nothing about human rights. They do not even attend the meetings, and do nothing. One should ask the Commission's staff about them. They (the staff) will tell everything,” Marasinghe told The Daily Morning.

Responding to a question about the allegations levelled against her by the said three Commissioners that certain decisions that they had taken had not been implemented, she said: “There should be decisions to be implemented, and they should come to make decisions. They have not made any decisions to be implemented. The Ven. Thera attends Commission only once a month, and others once a week. There is no contribution from them at all. My idea is that this is because they do not have an understanding of human rights. If they have made decisions, ask them to explain what those decisions are. The Human Rights Commission Act No. 21 of 1996 itself states that those with a sound understanding of human rights should be appointed to the Commission, but these persons do not have any understanding.”

When asked as to whether she would seek an audience with President Wickremesinghe to make the explanations from her end, she said that she was ready to make explanations only if the President would ask her to do so. “If the President asks, I will explain. I do not think that he would ask me. If anyone asks my staff, they would tell them about me and how I am working,” she added.

The Daily Morning also contacted Dr. Nanayakkara, one of the three Commissioners who had sent the letter to President Wickremesinghe, seeking an opportunity to meet the latter and discuss the alleged conduct of Marasinghe.

“We have a problem with her (Marasinghe) conduct as the HRCSL Chairperson, so we have requested the President that an appointment be given to us to discuss this issue. As a Commission, we should make decisions through discussion with all five members. That is what the relevant Act states. However, there have been various issues with regard to certain decisions that the Commission has made over the past. An example was the incident of summoning Public Security Minister, Tiran Alles. We are of the view that all important decisions should be made together, but the Chairperson thinks that she has the full authority to make decisions and that she should not work as per her wishes. In this situation, our presence as HRCSL members has no meaning,” he charged.

Dr. Nanayakkara claimed that they had made all possible attempts to solve the issue through discussions with Marasinghe, and that all such attempts had proved futile. “We had a meeting with her on 29 March too. Although we suggested solutions to this situation, she does not agree with them. We do not wish to make the public see that there is a crisis situation within the Commission. That is why we tried our best to resolve this situation through internal discussion. If it does not happen, we are left with no other option but to inform the President that there is an issue like this. That is what we did by sending this letter to Wickremesinghe. This is nothing personal. We have sent this letter only as HRCSL members,” Dr Nanayakkara stressed.

He also said that the three HRCSL members who had signed the letter to Wickremesinghe including himself had also taken a decision to not support any decision taken by the Commission since February 2023, until the resolution of the problematic situation which had arisen. 

“There are two issues. They are, the decisions that we take are not implemented, and decisions that we do not take are implemented. We cannot take responsibility for it. Therefore, we decided that we will not take the responsibility regarding decisions taken from February. If the Chairperson continues to work in this manner, we will not take any decisions in the future too. We have informed the President of all these matters. We are hoping to meet him and discuss this at length,” Dr. Nanayakkara added.

Attempts to contact the Presidential Secretariat regarding the matter proved futile.

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