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UN rights expert calls on Sri Lanka stop attacks on judiciary

Threats and attacks against judges and lawyers who fight for the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka have increased [press release] in past few months, according to UN independent expert Gabriela Knaul [official profile]. The focus of her criticism was the impeachment proceeding against Sri Lankan Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake that began [JURIST report] in early November. Knaul condemned the removal procedure because it was "extremely politicized and characterized by lack of transparency, lack of clarity in the proceedings, as well as lack of respect for the fundamental guarantees of due process and fair trial." Knaul noted that such procedures, especially article 107 of the country's constitution, which allows the parliament to govern judiciary matter, violate the principle of separation of powers, due process and international standards. She urged the local government to reassess the impeachment of the chief justice, which should be determined by an independent committee to ensure the independence of the judiciary by preventing it from being subject to external influences.

In mid-December Bandaranayake appealed [JURIST report] her conviction arguing that she was not given adequate opportunity to present her defense. She asked to declare the committee's findings illegal and order parliament to suspend any further proceedings against her, pending appeal. She was found guilty [JURIST report] of three, out of five, charges of misconduct by the parliamentary committee earlier that month. The first charge was related to a conflict of interest claim. The fourth charge dealt with claiming of assets for tax purposes. The fifth charge was a claim of bias in dealing with a case against her husband. The second and third charges were dismissed. More than 300 of Sri Lanka's judges had met in the capital Colombo to call for impartiality [JURIST report] in the impeachment proceedings. In November 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 proceedings.

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