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Task force would usurp Parliament, Justice Ministry: BASL

  • Bar Association says appointment improper 
  • Tamil diaspora slams Thera’s appointment 

BY Pamodi Waravita  

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) yesterday (2) said, in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that the new Presidential Task Force for “One Country, One Law” would usurp the functions of many institutions which are already established under the Constitution, including the Parliament and the Ministry of Justice. 

“The appointment of a Task Force to oversee the work of the Ministry of Justice is in view of the BASL improper and outside the accepted framework for lawmaking. Any alienation of what are properly functions of the duly elected legislators and proper legally mandated executive functionaries by relocating their functions elsewhere involves erosion of the sovereignty of the people. The BASL is of the view that no useful purpose would be served by the creation and appointment of the aforesaid Task Force,” said the letter.  

The BASL has noted the seriousness of preparing draft legislation and studying existing legislation, which involves several state institutions, including the Attorney General’s Department, and has identified concerns with the role the Task Force will play vis-à-vis the Attorney General and his officers. 

“The BASL further observes that the Task Force itself is not a representative body, given that it has no female representation nor representation from several ethnic groups and religious groups in the country. Serious doubts also exist as to the qualifications, expertise, and suitability of the Chairperson of the Task Force and of many of its members to engage in the functions described in the gazette.” 

Meanwhile, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) organisation which has been proscribed by the present Government, yesterday condemned the appointment of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera as the Chairman of the new Presidential Task Force for “One Country, One Law” and claimed that the appointment displays the lack of respect for the rule of law and pluralism by the present administration. 

“The recent appointment by the President of a Presidential Task Force for ‘One Country, One Law’ under the Leadership of Gnanasara Thera is a deeply worrying development. The Task Force has a few handpicked Muslim representatives but is without Tamil representation and was formed without consultations with the minority community representatives. It is a clear illustration of Sri Lanka’s twin failures – the lack of respect for pluralism and the rule of law, and the entrenched immunity from prosecution – the hallmarks of the present administration,” the GTF said in a statement released yesterday. 

The GTF noted that the “One Country, One Law” slogan was invoked to justify an Election campaign by President Rajapaksa which spread “groundless fears” about the minority communities and was again used in 2020 to justify the Government’s stance on the mandatory cremations of Covid-19 deaths which denied faith-based burial rites to the minority Muslim and Christian communities. 

“The person who has been chosen for this job by President Rajapaksa removes any ambiguities about the aims of the Task Force. Gnanasara Thera, the General Secretary of the extremist BBS, is one of the most divisive and notorious persons in the country. His open espousal of racism and incitement against the Muslim community is well known in Sri Lanka and in many other countries. This slogan, despite its veneer of rationality, represents an ultra-nationalist-Buddhist attempt to homogenise the country’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural landscape by progressively eliminating the uniqueness and specialities of its different communities,” claimed the GTF. 

The GTF said that they fear that the Government may resort to majoritarian extremism to hide its failures of governance and economic development, a strategy that it claims is a “time tested” one in Sri Lankan politics. 

“Therefore, it is time for the international community to rethink its engagement approach towards Sri Lanka as the country should be made to understand in no uncertain terms that it will pay a heavy price if it continues its negative trajectory – whether it be on democracy, the rule of law, human rights, accountability, and reconciliation or on fostering its pluralistic character.” 

Ven. Gnanasara Thera stated on Monday (1) that even though the said Task Force chaired by him cannot make laws, it will expedite the process of bringing about legal reforms that have been delayed due to various unscientific processes and political influences in the past. 

A 13-member Task Force was appointed by President Rajapaksa on 27 October for the implementation of the “One Country, One Law” concept. The Task Force is Chaired by Ven. Gnanasara Thera, while Senior Assistant Secretary to the President Jeevanthie Senanayake is its Secretary. As per an extraordinary gazette issued in this regard, the Task Force is tasked with preparing a draft Act for the implementation of the “One Country, One Law” concept.

Opposition parties and civil society groups have also condemned this Task Force and the appointment of the said monk as its Chairman.