Impeachment of Sri Lanka Chief Justice reverberates in U.S. power centers due to adverse publicity
The November 9 The New York Times, reporting about the impeachment motion against Sri Lanka's Chief Justice now before the parliament, gave enough fodder to the Subcommittee on South Asian Affairs of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee detrimental to the image of Sri Lanka.
The committee is headed by the Sri Lanka basher Democratic Senator Robert P. Casey who last July said at the confirmation hearing of Ambassador-designate Michele Sison that the "Sinhalese won the war when government military forces defeated the separatist Tamil Tigers in May 2009."
An intern working for the Casey committee who is assigned to maintain all reports, news items and statements of outsiders about Sri Lanka has already taken the clip of the New York Times news report captioned 'Sri Lanka’s Parliament Tries to Impeach Chief Justice' to file in a folder in the computer for the subcommittee's later use.
An internship with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, mostly graduate students, work on issues of foreign policy, legislative and political process, and the senate recruits those who possess excellent writing skills, attention to detail and the ability to multitask. Intern responsibilities range from attending meetings on and off the Congress, to drafting memos, tracking legislation and conducting research projects, and they last for a semester or full time so that they earn credits for their graduate studies.
The clipping the intern took from the November 9 report of the New York Times is very interesting. More than reporting that an impeachment motion is pending in Sri Lanka parliament, the report gives many editorial comments that help the South Asian subcommittee of the Senate's all powerful Foreign Relations Committee to further intensify the Congress' and State Department pressure on Sri Lanka.
Due to Sri Lanka's utter inability to provide cogent arguments and explanations as to why an impeachment motion is being forwarded it allowed foreign governments, foremost being the State Department and its diplomatic representative Michele Sison, to provide their own interpretations long before even the contents of the motion was publicized. Sri Lankan authorities allowed many rights groups, civic organizations and others to express their opinion for well over two weeks to create a political atmosphere that the GSL was endeavoring to bring the judiciary as a captive branch because the contents were announced only last Tuesday.
What was the result: Here in the halls of power the impression was created that the GSL was planning to bring the judiciary to its knees.
And, The New York Times has joined to condition the mind-set of the US Congress and the State Department in providing fodder; and they are very interesting.
The opening paragraph of November 9 New York Times report wants the American lawmakers to believe "Sri Lanka’s Parliament has initiated impeachment proceedings against the nation’s chief justice, in what critics have complained is an effort byPresident Mahinda Rajapaksa to curb the independence of the judiciary and consolidate his power."
The editorial comments by the reporter who wrote the New York Times piece are the ones the lawmakers and the officials of the State Department are likely to digest: While giving the reasons for bringing the motion the writer concludes the paragraph saying "her supporters say is politically motivated."
The report further gives food for thought to the foreign lobby, which includes Washington, when it says "The impeachment proceedings come amid rising tensions between the Supreme Court and Mr. Rajapaksa’s administration. Last week, the Supreme Court blocked efforts by the president to centralize certain powers at the expense of elected provincial councils. The government’s proposed change would have meant that one of the president’s brothers, a current cabinet minister, controlled more than $600 million in development money, according to one analysis".
NYT report further says: "Bandula Jayasekara, a presidential spokesman, declined to discuss the specific accusations against the chief justice, but he said the opposition complaints were unfounded. He noted that impeachment proceedings against different chief justices had been brought twice before, when the government was controlled by other parties."
The refusal to discuss the 'specific accusations' have left open others to make analyses and interpretations of the GSL move to impeach the chief justice, and this is exactly what the NYT report has done. And, no US lawmaker or official in the State Department is prone to change the mind that this is an assault on the judiciary when the presidential spokesman draw their attention to something that happened twenty years ago under a different president and refuse give 'some explanations".
And the NYT reporter refers to another issue which has nothing to do with the impeachment of the chief justice, the lingering issue of 'reconciliation' which the American lawmakers and the officials of the US State Department have taken as a major issue since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. The NYT report says: "Sri Lanka endured more than two decades of brutal ethnic conflict between the Tamil Tiger insurgent group and the government, controlled by the island’s Sinhalese majority. The civil war ended in May 2009, but the country continues to struggle toward reconciliation."
The United States and the European Union link 'reconciliation' to 'ethnic grievances of the Tamil minority'.
And the global rights groups, the American and EU lawmakers are told by the NYT report to link the impeachment to "In October, a gang of thugs attacked a judge days after he had spoken out about rising government pressure on the judiciary."
Sri Lanka's failure to understand the vitality of the basics of public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication has led to the creation of this atmosphere unfavorable to her image which has allowed interpretations and analyses of the type that the NYT carried for the consumption of the foreign affairs/policy handlers of the principal players of the international community.
For now, the New York Times report has been downloaded by one of the interns of the Subcommittee of Asian Affairs of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the American lawmakers consumption.
One of the officials of the State Department told this writer that when that person read the news that the Government of Sri Lanka was planning to impeach the Chief Justice the first sentiment that came to that person's mind was this was an assault on the independence of the judiciary. But later when he read the impeachment motion in full this State Department official wondered as to why the GSL failed to give adequate publicity to the grave charges creating an atmosphere to discourage critics from interpreting the impeachment as an attempt to stifle the judiciary.
Here is the full text of The New York Times report
(Begin Text) Sri Lanka’s Parliament has initiated impeachment proceedings against the nation’s chief justice, in what critics have complained is an effort by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to curb the independence of the judiciary and consolidate his power.
The Parliament will now form a select committee to examine the 14 charges made public on Tuesday against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake of the Supreme Court. She is charged with misusing her position and failing to adequately declare her assets, among other accusations, in a case her supporters say is politically motivated.
The impeachment proceedings come amid rising tensions between the Supreme Court and Mr. Rajapaksa’s administration. Last week, the Supreme Court blocked efforts by the president to centralize certain powers at the expense of elected provincial councils. The government’s proposed change would have meant that one of the president’s brothers, a current cabinet minister, controlled more than $600 million in development money, according to one analysis.
For over a year, opposition parties and others have complained that Mr. Rajapaksa’s government has broadened its powers while cracking down on dissent and members of civil society, including journalists and lawyers.
“It’s very worrisome,” said M. A. Sumanthiran, an opposition member of Parliament and a lawyer who has challenged the government’s actions. “Now it looks like government, which controls both the executive and legislative branches, wants to control the judiciary.”
Bandula Jayasekara, a presidential spokesman, declined to discuss the specific accusations against the chief justice, but he said the opposition complaints were unfounded. He noted that impeachment proceedings against different chief justices had been brought twice before, when the government was controlled by other parties.
“These comments are made by losers,” Mr. Jayasekara said of the opposition parties, which he described as unpopular. “They are trying to take political mileage out of this.”
Sri Lanka endured more than two decades of brutal ethnic conflict between the Tamil Tiger insurgent group and the government, controlled by the island’s Sinhalese majority. The civil war ended in May 2009, but the country continues to struggle toward reconciliation. To many residents, Mr. Rajapaksa is a hero for winning the war. But his government has also faced accusations that soldiers committed atrocities against helpless civilians in the war’s final, bloody battle.
Mr. Rajapaksa, whose governing coalition dominates Parliament, was resoundingly re-elected to a second term in January 2010, and his supporters say his administration has restored peace to the island while also improving the economy. Yet international rights groups, as well as the United Nations, have expressed concerns about civil liberties, the treatment of the Tamil minority and official intimidation. In October, a gang of thugs attacked a judge days after he had spoken out about rising government pressure on the judiciary.
“The timing of the impeachment motion, just as the Supreme Court had challenged the government, certainly has raised some eyebrows,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia director of the International Commission of Jurists, said in a statement. This month, the group released a report documenting, among other things, a steady government effort to erode the independence of the judiciary.
The Obama administration, if eager to maintain a good relationship with Sri Lanka, especially given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, has also expressed concerns about the government’s human rights record. In March, the United States pushed through a resolution before a United Nations human rights council that called on Sri Lanka to investigate the thousands of civilian deaths at the culmination of the civil war.
The United States State Department expressed concerns last week about the impeachment of the chief justice and called on the Sri Lankan government to address “outstanding issues” like the rule of law, democratic governance, accountability and reconciliation.
“We urge the government of Sri Lanka to avoid any action that would impede the efficacy and independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.(End Text)
- Asian Tribune -