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Sri Lanka urged to ensure safety of judiciary

Sri Lanka should take appropriate measures to protect the country's judiciary from threats, intimidation and physical attacks, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers urged [press release] on Wednesday. In her statement, Gabriela Knaul [official profile] noted that the situation of recent attacks on judges may escalate, seriously endangering the county's justice system. According to reports, investigations into the threats and attacks against the judiciary are insufficient to bring the perpetrators to justice. She stressed that the judiciary should be guaranteed independence from any inappropriate influence. In order to achieve this, the judiciary should not be subjected to dismissal or impeachment procedures except in rare circumstances, such as serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence. Even in those circumstances, the removal procedure should strictly adhere to due process and fair trial principles. With these principles laid out, Knaul also urged the local authorities to reconsider the impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake [JURIST report], the chief justice and lone woman on the country's Supreme Court.

The impeachment of Bandaranayake sparked heavy criticism among Sri Lanka's citizens. Earlier this month, hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers and citizens protested [JURIST report] on the street in Colombo calling the government to halt to the impeachment. The impeachment was announced a week earlier after more than 75 percent of the parliament approved it, but specific charges against the chief justice were not revealed at that time. Tension continues to grow between the Sri Lankan government and the judiciary after an outspoken judge was assaulted last month [JURIST report]. Sri Lanka is still struggling to establish rule of law in the wake of a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. In July the government of Sri Lanka said that it may take up to five years to prosecute people accused of war crimes [JURIST report] during the civil war it fought with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder]. Earlier in July Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Sri Lanka to stop arresting journalists who criticized the government [JURIST report].

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