Special Statement by Tilak Marapana, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Parliament – 25.07.19
It has been brought to my notice that last Tuesday (23 July) and Wednesday (24 July) several Members of the Parliament have brought up the issue of the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of assembly and of association, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé and the action taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in conveying a request for a meeting for the Special Rapporteur with Hon. Chief Justice and Hon. Judges of the Colombo High Court.
Since many a view had been expressed by Hon. Members of Parliament leading to considerable confusion, I wish to place before you the following:
• The visit of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of assembly and of association which is currently underway is part of similar visits undertaken by UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka.
• The idea of welcoming such visits is to have a transparent process in place whereby the Government of Sri Lanka hopes to engage with the international community, including the UN, in a spirit of openness and dialogue.
• This is not the first time that we have had a visit of a Special Rapporteur; there have been 08 such visits which have taken place since 8 January 2015. In all such occasions, it has been the regular practice for the Foreign Ministry to coordinate the activities of the SR in Sri Lanka and to arrange meetings with the Government sector. Before each such visit is undertaken, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs routinely receives from the UN, a list of persons that the visiting Special Rapporteur wishes to meet.
• With respect to the current visit by the Special Rapporteur which is in question, it is important to note that as with other such visits, the Ministry conveneda preparatory meeting of stakeholders to discuss arrangements. Thereafter, the Ministry writes to the relevant institutions, conveying the request for formal appointments by the Special Rapporteur. In this instance, the same procedure was followed, including with respect to over 20 meetings sought, including with the Hon. Chief Justice and Hon. Judges of the Colombo High Court.
• At the above mentioned preparatory meeting,representatives from the Department of Police and Attorney General’s Department highlighted the possibility of the visiting Special Rapporteur bringing up issues mentioned in the Foreign Ministry letter addressed to Secretary/ Ministry of Justice. The Attorney General’s Department undertook the task of providing updates on such cases.
• It was in this backdrop that the Actg. Secretary/ Foreign Affairs, addressed the letter to Secretary/ Ministry of Justice, Secretary/ Ministry of Defence and Hon. Attorney General, mentioning the cases. The purpose was to alert these institutions on the possibility of the Special Rapporteur raising issues regarding the particular cases.
• It would be noted from the letter from Actg. Secretary/ Foreign Affairs that nowhere has it been recommended that the appointment sought with Hon. Chief Justice and Hon. Judges of the High Court in Colombo be granted.The letter only conveyed the wish of the Special Rapporteur for these appointments.
• Similarly, nowhere in the Foreign Ministry letter it is stated that the cases will be discussed, but only alerted the institutions concerned that it may be discussed. This was consequent to the stakeholder meeting held on 5 July before the visit took place.
• The Foreign Ministry has followed proper procedure by communicating the requests for meetings by the Special Rapporteur through the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Services Commission. The Judicial Services Commission having considered the Ministry letter consulted the Hon. Chief Justice who granted the appointment.
• I am saddened to note that some Members of Parliament had sought to show that the Actg. Secretary/ Foreign Affair’s letter was an interference with the judiciary and also was in contempt of Court. Neither of these assertions are true.
• Again I wish to emphasize that this is not the first time that the Foreign Ministry has taken the course of action that it has taken for this particular visit. In fact two previous Foreign Secretaries have requested similar meetings in June 2017and October 2017 by writing directly to the Office of Hon. Chief Justice. However, in this instance, the Foreign Ministry had only conveyed the request of the Special Rapporteur to the Secretary/Ministry of Justice.
• In conclusion, I wish to highlight that during the visits of special procedures mandate holders, this Ministry has always worked with all relevant line agencies in Sri Lanka in a spirit of consultation and engagement.