(Photo of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mohan Peiris figured on the right)
Mohan Peiris, former attorney general and legal advisor to Mahinda Rajapaksa has been appointed as the new permanent representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York.
Peiris was congratulated by the UN representative in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer, in a tweet despite Peiris being found on record to have misled the UN Committee against Torture (CAT). Singer’s tweet has been met with backlash from activists critical of Peiris’s record. His appointment is seen as an expansion of the Rajapaksa’s inner circle.
Problems with Sri Lanka’s judiciary
According to the International Commission of Jurists, Sri Lanka has long suffered from the politicization of its judicial appointments, where the basis is of political loyalty and no consideration is given to seniority, proven competence, integrity, or independence.
Peiris is seen as a figure who has supported and benefited from such appointments. His controversial appointment as Chief Justice by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2013 following the impeachment of Bandaranyake has been seen a politically motivated move.
Whilst serving as Chief Justice, the fundamental rights case brought by family members of Ganesan Nimalaruban who died in July 2012 as a result of injuries received in a prison siege was dismissed by the supreme court. Peiris is reported to have chastised the complainant, Nimalarubans father for having “raised his child to become a terrorist”.
During his 33 month tenure as Attorney-general, Peiris did not prosecute a single case for crimes committed against journalists, human rights defenders or lawyers. Sri Lanka was amongst the top 10 countries for a number of years on the committee to protect journalists (CPJ) Global impunity Index and in recent months a Sri Lankan Journalist, Prageeth Eknelygoda, topped the list of the One Free Press Coalition’s “10 most urgent” journalist whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases are seeking justice.
The Case of Prageeth Eknelygoda
Prageeth Eknelygoda was forcibly disappeared in 2010 days before the presidential election. Days prior to his disappearance he had published a comparative analysis which came out against Mahinda and in favour of the then opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka. His wife has also suggested that he may have been targeted as he investigated allegations that the Sri Lankan Army used chemical weapons in the north-east during the armed conflict.
Mohan Peiris claimed in a question and answer sessions with the United Nations Committee against torture in November 2011, that Prageeth had secretly left Sri Lanka and was living abroad. However six months later, in a June 2012 testimony before a Sri Lankan court, he contradicted that statement stating:
“I don’t know if he is alive or dead, only god would know if the information that I received about him is true”
Mohan Peiris was accused of deliberately misleading the UN committee against torture.
Human rights activists are concerned that his appointment as a permanent representative reinforces Sri Lanka's impunity in their commitment for Justice and accountability.