The former Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, last November told the United Nations CAT Committee that he knew personally, through a reliable source that Prageeth Eknaligoda was living in a foreign country. However, last week when giving evidence before the Homagama Magistrate’s Court he said that he does not know whether Prageeth Eknaligoda was dead or alive.
The United Nations treaty bodies, of which the Committee against Torture is one, gives enormous importance to their discussions with the representatives of the nations they negotiate with. The idea of being a representative of a nation carries a great weight with the United Nations and for that matter, in any diplomatic circles.
It would have been with that kind of seriousness that Mr. Peiris was treated when he was the chief spokesman for Sri Lanka before the Committee against Torture at its 48th Session. It would have been with the utmost seriousness that the UN officials conducted their dialogue with the representative of the sovereign nation of Sri Lanka.
Reducing the sublime to the ridiculous, Mr. Peiris took it all as a joke and told something to the committee that he himself did not believe. Is this now the way Sri Lanka as a nation, conducts its diplomatic negotiations? Surely no nation deserves to be represented in this manner.
Similarly, a court conducts its sessions with the utmost seriousness. This is particularly so when the task given to the court is assigned by a higher court and the task is about the finding the whereabouts of a citizen who has gone missing. That was the serious task that the Homagama Magistrate’s Court was dealing with.
Facing such a task when the court is calling upon a witness who has claimed to have some knowledge of the whereabouts of a missing person the court would have treated such a witness with great seriousness. Such expectation is even more justified when the witness so called upon was the former Attorney General of Sri Lanka and also the person who represented Sri Lanka before the United Nations.
However, Mr. Peiris did not face the situation with the same degree of seriousness. Even after the Court of Appeal ordered him to appear before the Homagama Magistrate’s Court and answer the questions he was making all kinds of arguments through his lawyers as to why he need not answer the questions posed to him. The honourable Magistrate had to make an order to him to answer the questions.
And what did he answer? His answer was that his statement to the United Nations was based on hearsay from an intelligence source and that he could not remember what that source was. That was ho seriously he had done his research before he went to the United Nations to represent his country and to provide to that august body information for official purposes.
To add to it all he ended his statement saying, “Only God knows whether Prageeth Eknaligoda is dead or alive.” First of all Mr. Peiris is unlikely to know what God knows or what God does not know. However, he as an ordinary citizen let alone the fact that he is the former Attorney General would know that whosever abducted Prageeth Eknaligoda would know what happened to him. This means that there are people in Sri Lanka who, in fact, know what happened to Prageeth Eknaligoda.
It was the state that has failed to bring to the court the abductors and whoever directed their work. It was this that the former Attorney General should have explained to the court. Why did the state fail to identify the abductors?
If the matters related to the diplomacy of the country before the highest bodies in the world on the one hand and matters relating to habeas corpus, which is considered the most important remedy under the common law are treated in this manner what is there to be expected of this nation?
Why has Sri Lanka allowed itself to be so ridiculed and mocked by its public officials? Mr. Mohan Peiris wanted the courts to treat him as a public servant. Technically speaking that was a correct claim. However, what would happen to a country which is ‘served’ by such public servants?
If just any rascal can be a public servant can such a nation survive as a nation?