Air Vice-Marshal (rtd) A.B.Sosa
Going by media reports, the relevant authorities in Geneva are of the view that foreign Judges and Investigators must supplement the indigenous Judiciary and investigators in order to ensure an unbiased investigation pertaining to the captioned subject. Many in the Opposition in Parliament are vigorously campaigning against this move on the grounds that it will impinge on the sovereignty of our country. Mixed signals in this context are emanating from the Government. Thus a rather hazy picture emerges.
In my opinion the foreign community is justified in having its reservations pertaining to the integrity of our Judiciary for the following reasons. During the decade commencing 2004 to 2014 our Judiciary has been tainted by the antics of three consecutive captains of our pinnacle of justice, commencing with Chief Justice (CJ) Sarath N Silva.
The tsunami of 2004 wreaked havoc on our country. In the absence of the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was abroad at the time, Prime Minister (PM) Mahinda Rajapaksa acted temporarily as the head of state and government. The International community responded with both substantial material as well as financial aid. It was alleged in the media that a sum of approximately Rupees Seventy Million had been siphoned out to the bank account of a sibling of the PM from these donations. This transfer was challenged in the Supreme Court but CJ Silva ruled that these funds, which were termed “Helping Hambantota”, were not moved fraudulently into the account concerned.
In the latter part of 2014, by which time Mahinda Rajapaksa had become President, ex-CJ Silva (now retired) entered the hurly burly of politics but failed to make any substantial progress in the political party of the President. On realizing that he was politically up against a blank wall, he threw in his lot in support of Maithripala Sirisena, who was contesting Mahinda Rajapaksa for the Presidency in the elections scheduled for January 2015. Silva appeared on political stages in the course of campaign meetings. His most deplorable act was to appear on several TV channels with folded arms begging the pardon of all citizens for having given an incorrect decision pertaining to the “Helping Hambantota” case where, instead of sentencing the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa to jail, he had exonerated him of all culpability. Sadly, Silva, in spite of his mea culpa, realized within a short period of a few months that he seemed to be destined to go into political oblivion as he was not getting any “plums” in the newly elected Government of President Maithripala Sirisena. He then shamelessly returned to the camp of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the defeated President, and sat by his side at meetings convened to criticize the incumbent Government of President Maithripala Sirisena.
Recently ex-President Rajapaksa was being feted by his supporters at an event organized by them. The most deplorable sight was to see photographs in several media of ex-CJ Silva reaching out with a grin on his face to touch the former President in the same manner as devotees stretch out their hands to touch holy men like Sai Baba. Sadly, this former Chief Justice, who seems to have the hide of a rhinoceros, is still strutting around in the political arena.
This unprincipled political adventurer was succeeded by CJ (Mrs) Shiranee Bandaranaike. Citizens of this country expected the desecrated office of CJ to revert to its pristine image of years long gone by. However, she succumbed to political machinations when her husband, who was a non-entity, was appointed head of the Insurance Corporation of Sri Lanka and, later, the Chairman of the National Savings Bank. It was at this time that the infamous 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was forwarded to the Supreme Court for its comments, if any, and approval. The main clause of this amendment removed the limit of two terms that a President could serve and permitted an unlimited period of tenure. This was approved by CJ Bandaranaike’s court as proposed by the Rajapaksa government.
A short while after this ignominious approval, CJ Bandaranaike resisted giving further biased judgments in favour of President Rajapaksa, which resulted in her being impeached by Parliament on the grounds of impropriety in some questionable financial dealings.
The people of Sri Lanka are fortunate that Rajapaksa was defeated in January 2015 and the election promise given earlier by the incoming government to have the offensive clauses of the 18th Amendment repealed was honoured by the passing of the 19th Amendment.
The abyss into which our judiciary next fell was the appointment of Justice Mohan Peiris as the CJ. Earlier, while he was the Attorney General, he had the audacity to inform a United Nations sub-organization that a reputed journalist Mr Ekneligoda, who was credibly believed to have been “disappeared” by a powerful authority, was in fact resident in France. When questioned whether he had met him there, he replied that he was given this information by another person resident in France. Presumably this august body accepted this statement of CJ Peiris in view of his high position in the administration.
At this time, the disappearance of this journalist was very much in the public domain and, in fact, a habeas corpus application had been filed. On Peiris’s return, he was summoned to appear in the Magistrate’s Court and asked to confirm that he was told that Ekneligoda was living in France. He confirmed this. When asked the identity of the person who gave him such vital information, he said that he had forgotten the name and identity of this person. Surely, no one but a moron would believe this evidence given by a supposedly responsible senior Judicial Officer. The obvious conclusion is that he is a deliberate liar. It is amazing that such a character was appointed Chief Justice. Not surprisingly, Maithripala Sirisena, on being elected President, sent him packing home.
It is thus seen that three consecutive Chief Justices of Sri Lanka during the period 2004 to 2014 were a disgrace to the august office that they held. In such regrettable circumstances, it is very logical for the relevant International authorities to view our muddied Judicial system with disdain. Hence, their insistence on buttressing our discredited Judiciary with foreign judges is not only logical but also very reasonable.
On a personal note, a decade of the period of conflict was spent by me in the Sri Lanka Air Force as the Director of Ground Operations. My area of responsibility was to supervise the defenses of all Air Force installations. These included the air-fields and their extended peripheries in Batticaloa, China Bay, Vavuniya, Minneriya, Sigiriya, Palaly and also Morawewa, which only had a helipad. In the course of my frequent visits I interacted closely with the high and mid-command levels of the Army. Thus I am aware of their excellent professionalism in the execution of their duties. I am confident that they will be exonerated of deliberate culpability in the perspective of the violation of Human Rights, subject to due allowance being made for unintentional collateral damage in the course of battling the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, as classified in international fora.
In these circumstances, I am convinced that it would be to the advantage of our three valiant services and the police if our Judiciary, supplemented by international legal luminaries, helps to clear their name for posterity, as I have no doubt that it will.
A B Sosa
Air Vice Marshal (retired)
20 July 2016
(Note: This article has been edited for easier reading since it was first published in the SUNDAY LEADER)