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Sri Lankan judges demand impartial inquiry into charges against chief justice

More than 300 of Sri Lanka's judges met in the capital Colombo on Monday to demand an impartial inquiry into charges against the nation's Supreme Court [official website] chief justice. The judges issued a statement [Reuters report] in which they rejected an 11-member committee appointed by Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the President Mahendra Rajapaksa [Time profile], to investigate the claims made by Rajapaksa's ruling party in an impeachment motion filed against the cheif justice last month. The government has accused Shirani Bandaranayake [official profile], Sri Lanka's first female head of the Supreme Court, of overstepping her authority. The judges declared that the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Bandaranayake should be impartial and transparent, stating that it is unjust for an inquiry into the impeachment claims to be conducted by the parties who brought the allegations. The judges also voiced concern regarding defamatory media statements against the chief justice and the judiciary that could damage the rule of the law in the country.

The impeachment of Bandaranayake sparked heavy criticism among Sri Lanka's citizens. Last month the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers urged [JURIST report] Sri Lanka to take appropriate measures to protect the country's judiciary from threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Earlier last month hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers and citizens protested [JURIST report] on the street in Colombo calling the government to halt to the impeachment. Tension continues to grow between the Sri Lankan government and the judiciary after an outspoken judge was assaulted in October [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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