FUTA Statement on Impeachment of Chief Justice
FUTA’s recent 100 day trade union action on education sought to draw attention to the link between the role of education in fostering values that are integral to sustaining a democratic society. The democratic society we continue to fight for requires each branch of the state to function with integrity and independence. The current constitutional deadlock in the country, precipitated by the government’s attempt to impeach the Chief Justice, strikes at the heart of institutions and processes that preserve democracy in this country.
While we recognise the need for a process that holds the judiciary accountable, we are deeply concerned about the selective way in which the impeachment process was initiated at the present juncture. It is no secret that the court has been recently giving judgements that are not to the liking of the ruling party and the fact that the impeachment process was initiated at this particular moment is certainly not a coincidence. This is an abuse of the spirit of the due processes laid out in the constitution to deal with the judiciary. Furthermore, the government’s determination to proceed with the impeachment after the Supreme Court ruling which states that the current impeachment procedure is unconstitutional has pushed the country to the brink of a serious breakdown in law and order.
The implications of the abuse of due process are serious for the citizenry of this country. Certainly, as many have already pointed out, the judiciary in recent times have been fraught with problems. Both the bench and the bar have failed to safeguard constitutional principles at several critical moments recently: the 18th Amendment being perhaps one of the most serious of these. This has most certainly contributed to the erosion of the sovereign rights of the citizenry. However, the selective and malicious use of the constitutional provision for impeachment at this moment can in no way be regarded as a measure taken to uphold the sovereign rights of citizens: in fact, the implications of this action, for citizens of this country serve to further strike a blow to democracy.
Therefore, we are compelled to question the motivations behind the impeachment move. It is clear that it is not about upholding government policy or state action on behalf of its citizenry, but rather about entrenching the power of a small oligarchy which is determined to consolidate its power base and remain in power by any means. No principle or institution or democratic value is safe within this oligarchic power project.
We also draw attention to the blatant violation of accepted norms of due process in the manner in which the impeachment was being conducted: the composition of the PSC which was extremely weighted in favour of the government; the denial by the PSC of sufficient time to present the defence on behalf of the Chief Justice; the failure to provide in a timely manner the relevant documents needed to prepare the defence; failure to provide details of the procedure and rules of evidence in advance. All those deficiencies point to a farcical process which mock accepted norms of fair hearing. The derogatory remarks reportedly made by government members of the PSC against the CJ and the blatantly unjust procedure clearly point to a prior political intention to remove the CJ at any cost.
Even after the Supreme Court ruling, the behavior of the government shows absolute disregard and disrespect for the Rule of Law. Also, the recent attacks by unknown people on members of the legal community opposing the impeachment and the blatant vilification campaign carried out in the state media against the Chief Justice and those defending the independence of the judiciary are unacceptable and serve only to further exacerbate the conflict between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.
Sri Lanka’s citizenry needs to be alert to the considerable implications of the current crisis on the rule of law, constitutionalism and democratic governance in this country. There is no doubt that this crisis strikes at the very heart of rights and liberties of citizens. The consequences of not resolving the crisis through democratic means will be far reaching. It is particularly unfortunate that the post-war opportunities at consolidating democracy, political stability and social justice are being callously thrown away by the government which appears to be focused only on its power project. Such selfish political motives must surely give way to championing the public good. Thus, we call upon the government to respect the authority and judgments of the Supreme Court and to work with all parties to find a reasonable way out of this present crisis and to refrain from actions that damage the fundamental pillars of democracy and rule of law in the country.
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri
FEDERATION OF UNIVERSITY TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATIONS