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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

War on Drugs in Sri Lanka: Police Minster exercising executive powers resembling a dictatorship – Lawyers Collective

Cartoon by @ChickeraGihan

In a letter addressed to Tiran Alles MP, Minister of Public Security the Lawyers Collective comprising leading lawyers and legal academics says that ” It is unfortunate that as a Minister in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka you are acting as if you were exercising executive powers in a type of governance known as a dictatorship. We trust that the President and your colleagues, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice (both senior lawyers and President’s Counsel) will restrain your abuse of powers and enable the anti-drug campaign to be conducted with respect for the rule of law and the Supreme Court of the country. ”

The Letter in full:

To Mr. Tiran Alles MP, Minister of Public Security,

We are writing this letter to you as members of the Lawyers Collective. We will send copies to the President and Prime Minister, and will place the letter in the public domain. We are doing so because we consider the manner in which you are exercising your powers in the “Yukthiya” Anti Drug  Campaign,  a matter of grave public concern.

Citizens of the country will endorse your decision to conduct a campaign to address the drug problem and try to eliminate its adverse impact on their lives. It would have been best if the campaign had been commenced when you took office, rather than in the election year 2024. In any event this campaign must conform to the Rule of Law. It cannot be a passionate, personal, initiative that you seek to implement outside the law. The manner in which you are conducting this campaign and making public statements on the media indicates the following:

1)       that you will consider any laws that you think restrict your authority as “obstacles” that you have every right to disregard.

2)       that you consider all who comment or criticise the manner in which the campaign is conducted to be drug dealers and drug addicts. You have chosen to target in particular, lawyers who do so.  You have  repeatedly referred to them in this manner, despite a statement from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka objecting to this  vicious attack on the legal profession.

3)       You have also repeatedly stated on national TV networks that you will disregard any cautions on adhering to norms and standards of international law that apply to the State of Sri Lanka. You have stated that you will disregard them as  “foreign and outside influences,” and that you are not bound to conduct the campaign with respect for international law and the views of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

4)       You have also publicly stated repeatedly that you appointed Deshabandu Tennekoon as the Acting IGP because he was the best police officer to effectively conduct this Yukthiya Campaign.

We wish to point out that each of these statements indicate that you have no regard for the oath of office you have taken to hold that high office of a Minister with a sense of responsibility, and as a public trust, according to the laws and Constitution of our country.

The Supreme Court, the apex court of our country, has repeatedly emphasised that there is no principle of absolute discretion in the exercise of administrative powers. You are required to respect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and dissent, and the right of lawyers to fulfill their professional responsibilities.

Your statements are a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens. They also fail to recognise the right of lawyers to represent clients. They do so in conformity with   professional responsibilities to the Court, (rather than to the Executive or a Minister), in the administration of justice.

Your statements which amount to a rejection of international law show a surprising ignorance of the obligations of the State of Sri Lanka and its Government under ratified international human rights treaties. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human  Rights is the nodal agency for facilitating the implementation of international law by States, at the national domestic level. Your disparaging remarks in this regard should be immediately restrained by the President on the advice of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is also a senior member of the legal profession, holding the title of Presidents Counsel.

We  wish to conclude by pointing out that you personally cannot have any role in the appointment  of an IGP. This is a matter for the President and the Constitutional Council. Besides, the  Supreme Court has, in a recent case, found Deshabandu Tennekoon personally responsible for acts of  torture, and a failure to fulfill his command responsibility to prevent torture by his team of police officers. This conduct amounts to a grave violation of the fundamental rights of a victim, and also a grave criminal offence under the Torture Act  of Sri Lanka.

We have addressed the Attorney General on the need to prosecute Deshabandu Tennekoon in conformity with our law. The inaction of the Police Commission in  failing, up to now, to take disciplinary action in conformity with the Supreme Court judgment is a matter of public concern. Their silence on this matter is also a breach of public trust in fulfilling their responsibility to ensure high  professional standards in the Police force of our country. Your own  personal endorsement of Deshabandu Tennekoon continuing in his post as IGP, and expression of confidence in him, amounts to a total violation of the rule of law as explained by the Supreme Court of our country. We wish to remind that it is this court that exercises the “judicial power of the people” in a democracy,  and no Minister of the Executive branch can act without respect for the powers of the Supreme Court in the important area of Administration of Justice.

We conclude this letter by requesting you to please understand the true meaning of “Yukthiya” as linked to the implementation of the Rule of Law  as stated in the Constitution, the Torture Act and other laws, and the decisions of the courts of law. It is unfortunate that as a Minister in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka you are acting as if you were exercising executive powers in a type of governance known as a dictatorship. We trust that the President and your colleagues, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice (both senior lawyers and President’s Counsel) will restrain your abuse of powers and enable the anti-drug campaign to be conducted with respect for the rule of law and the Supreme Court of the country.

On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective

Mr. Rienzie Arsecularatne, President’s Counsel.
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Attorney-at-Law, Former Vice Chancellor of University of Colombo.
Mr. Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel, Former President – BASL
Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
Mr. Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel, Former President – BASL
Mr. Dinal Phillips, President’s Counsel
Mr. Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel, Former President – BASL
Mr. S.T. Jayanaga, President’s Counsel
Mr. Upul Kumarapperuma, President’s Counsel
Professor Deepika Udagama, Former Chairperson – HRCSL
Professor Camena Gunaratne
Mr. Harshana Nanayakkara, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-Law
Ms. Ermiza Tegal, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Manoj Nanayakkara, Attorney-at-Law

 

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