ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06

Right of reply

With reference to our page one lead story last week, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga has sent us the following letter which we publish as a right of reply along with our News Editor’s note.

“News Item on the “Sunday Times” of July 1, 2007. “My attention is drawn to the prominent news item on Page 1 of “The Sunday Times” of July 1, 2007 headlined “President urges Bhagwati, to continue; clarifies AG’s remarks”.

“I wish to inform you that this item is wholly incorrect in its claim of what the President’s Office had recently written to Justice P.N. Bhagwati, Chairman of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The Letter of June 29, 2007, informed Justice Bhagwati that the Commission of Inquiry is at present conducting investigations into the killing of 17 aid workers of ACF in Mutur in early August 2006; and conveyed a request by the President to Justice Bhagwati, as Chairman of the IIGEP, to ensure that at least one Member of the IIGEP is present in Sri Lanka to observe the investigations being conducted by the relevant Commission of Inquiry. This request was made, as explained to Justice Bhagwati, as the President was not content by only certain Assistants to Members of the IIGEP being presnt at the Commission sittings on certain days.

“The question of requesting Justice Bhagwati to continue with his work in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the IIGEP did not arise as he had at no stage informed the President of any desire to discontinue his work on the IIGEP. Contrary to what the report states, this letter also made no reference whatever to the recent comments by the Attorney General on the Public Statements by the IIGEP and the functioning of its members. The Government of Sri Lanka recognizes that, the Attorney General is the relevant competent authority who has the requisite authority to address communications on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka to the IIGEP arising out of and in respone to contents of Public Statemnts issued by the IIGEP. Public letter dated 18th June 2007, issued by the Attorney General to the Chairman of the IIGEP is one such communication.

“The letter under reference sent to Justice Bhagwati by me, was converyed to Justice Bhagwati through our High Commissioner in New Delhi, and was very well received by the Chairman of the IIGEP and former Chief Justice of India, whom the President holds in the highest esteem. I wish to reiterate that the President has received no intimation whatever from Justice Bhagwati of his unwillingness to continue as Chairman of the IIGEP, and assure your readers that President Mahainda Rajapaksa continues to have very cordial relations with Justice Bhagwati.

“In view of the importance of this matter vis-à-vis good relations between the President and Justice Bhagwati and other members of the IIGEP; and the wrong impression this report can create, especially among the international community on a very sensitive issue, I would request that this response be given equal or similar prominence as the original news item, in the next issue of The Sunday Times.
News Editor's Note: We really don't see any conflict in our story headlined "President urges Bhagwati to continue; clarifies AG's remarks".

It is a fact that the President's letter signed by his Secretary Lalith Weeratunge has, by implication, urged Justice Bhagwati to continue, and clarified the Attorney General's remarks in the light of a serious trading of insults between the two legal luminaries, publicly, over the way the Commission of Inquiry was probing alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.It may, however, be conceded that the news item could give an impression, as it seems to have to the President's Secretary and the AG, that the President's Office by its letter to Justice Bhagwati last Friday, “disassociated itself” with the AG's public criticism of Justice Bhagwati’s two public statements. That is clearly not the case.

Mr. Weeratunge's response to The Sunday Times news item is appropriately restricted to the letter sent by his Office to Justice Bhagwati, but he also ventures to refer to the fact that Justice Bhagwati did not express any “unwillingness to continue” (which the news item referred to).

For the benefit of readers, The Sunday Times now publishes what Justice Bhagwati said on the telephone to The Sunday Times. This gives the backdrop to the efforts on the part of the Sri Lanka Government to pacify the former Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court.

This follows the specially arranged meeting in New Delhi to which the Government despatched Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.

Justice Bhagwati:
“I did not expect that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka would use such undignified language in a letter to me. I have already sent a reply to this letter. I am not sure whether this has been released to the media.

“I do not consider his letter as the views or standpoint of the Government of Sri Lanka. This is because I have been assured by Minister Samarasinghe that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the highest regard for me. That makes the position very clear. In view of this, I see no reason why I should resign. He met me at lunch at the Sri Lanka High Commission together with High Commissioner Romesh Jayasinghe.

“I told Minister Samarasinghe I don't mind the Attorney General criticising me. He is entitled to a different view. I fully appreciate that. We should respect each other's view. The views I have expressed with regard to matters before the Commission of Inquiry are endorsed by all members of the IIGEP. We have been taking up this position since February this year.

“What we say is that the Attorney General or the Solicitor General has no role to play. This is not a prosecution. My ten colleagues share my view when I say that independent lawyers should assist the Commission of Inquiry. When we say this, the Attorney General can differ in his point of view. But the language he has used to respond to us is totally undignified. We are not at all saying that the Attorney General is not a fit and proper person. He is a very efficient person.

“I believe they would not have used that language on me or my other IIGEP colleagues. Your Minister Samarasinghe also confirmed that the President of Sri Lanka has the highest regard for me. I understand he had chosen to invite me to be in the IIGEP. Therefore it is neither his nor his Government's view. What more should I say?”

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.