Sri Lanka: Justice Minister, UN official in heated argument

Sri Lanka: Justice Minister, UN official in heated argument

SAM Staff,
Wijeyadasa and Emmerson

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, had a heated argument with visiting UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism Ben Emmerson, QC, over UN intervention in Sri Lanka as regards promotion and protection of human rights.

Sri Lanka in December 2015 extended a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

Emmerson began a five-day official visit on July 10 to gather first-hand information about what the UN described as post-war initiatives in the area of counter-terrorism and assess how they affect the people.

Minister Rajapaksa strongly questioned the UN official resulting in an unprecedented fiery argument early this week, well informed sources said, adding that the meeting took place at the Justice Ministry.

Sources said Emmerson had been somewhat taken aback by Dr. Rajapakse’s outburst though the UN knew of his opposition to UN intervention here. Emmerson warned Minister Rajapakse that he would publicly announce the latter’s refusal to cooperate with the UN. The minister said that he was free to call media briefings.

Emmerson will discuss the situation at a media briefing at UN building at 202 Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7 on Friday at 3.00 pm. Sources said that reference would certainly be made to recent ‘clash’ with the Justice Minister.

Minister Rajapakse had called the UN stand here unfair and unacceptable. Emmerson reported the incident to the UN.

A senior Foreign Ministry official on Thursday confirmed the incident at the Justice Ministry.

A UN statement issued from Geneva before Emmerson’s arrival here quoted top British lawyer as having said, “I will seek to provide assistance in the discussion of the country’s counter-terrorism policy and legal framework as well as in the preparation and drafting of relevant legislative acts, with a view to ensuring that measures taken by the Government are in compliance with international human rights law.”

Minister Rajapakse recently called for reviewing Sri Lanka’s decision to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the wake of those who had been demanding abolition of the legislation having to adopt draconian measures to counter terrorism. Sri Lanka has repeatedly assured the international community that the PTA would be repealed to pave the way for Anti-Terrorism Law conforming to international norms.

Emmerson also had high-level meetings with representatives of the Government, including the ministries responsible for foreign affairs, law and order, Southern development, justice, defence, finance, media, prison reforms, rehabilitation, resettlement and Hindu religious affairs.

The Special Rapporteur met law enforcement officials, members of parliament, members of specialised police departments, the National Police Commission and the Human Rights Commission.