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Row over rapporteur post
By Ayesha R. Rafiq
With the post of United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession due to fall vacant shortly, Sri Lanka has placed itself in an awkward position by taking the unprecedented step of forwarding two nominations for the post, and Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando saying he will forward any number of applications that come to him.

While the International Bar Association (IBA) is supporting the candidature of its former President, Desmond Fernando, the Foreign Ministry had as long as six months ago forwarded the candidature of Nihal Jayawickreme, a former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice in the Sirima Bandaranaike government of 1970-77, whose civic rights were later taken away by the UNP Government.

The IBA had earlier this month informed Mr. Desmond Fernando that it had decided to nominate him to fill the vacancy for the post of Special Rapporteur currently held by Dato Param Cumaraswamy, but Mr. Fernando had sought Government blessings for his nomination. Mr. Param Cumaraswamy is from Malaysia, but his own Government did not back his candidature at the time due to chronic differences with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed. He was supported by the ICJ (International Commission of Jurists)

When Mr. Desmond Fernando contacted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding this, the premier reportedly unaware of Mr. Jayawickreme's nomination had said the government would back Mr. Fernando's candidature and to follow the matter up with the Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Desmond Fernando when contacted by The Sunday Times said it was 'extremely curious' that Sri Lanka had decided to forward two nominations, and added that Mr. Param Cumaraswamy who shared his view had informed him that never before had a country submitted more than one nomination for this post.

Sri Lanka's UN Ambassador in Geneva, Prasad Kariyawasam, has also reportedly said the situation had placed him in an extremely embarrassing position. Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando told The Sunday Times that since nominees would be selected not by election but by interview, he had forwarded both nominations to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and would forward any more nominations that came his way. 'There is no question of a Sri Lankan nominee. Each candidate will have to run their own race," he said.

The interview board, of which Sri Lanka's Ambassador Mr. Kariyawasam is the Vice-President, will decide on the best candidate based on the merits of the candidates' bio-data and on the interview, the Minister said.

The Sunday Times, however, learns that Mr. Desmond Fernando had been asked by an official of the Foreign Ministry to withdraw his nomination, offering him a diplomatic posting as Mr. Jayawickreme's name had already been forwarded. Mr. Fernando had refused to do so on the basis that the IBA had wanted him to run for the office.

It was only last Wednesday that Ambassador Kariyawasam had been instructed by the Foreign Ministry to proceed with Mr. Fernando's application. Desmond Fernando pointed out that it was the common practice for the Foreign Ministry in consultation with the proper authorities such as the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Justice Ministry, to carry out the pre-selection process and then forward just one nomination.

Minister Fernando, however, said it was not necessary to consult such authorities as they were only forwarding names and not selecting candidates. Mr. Jayawickrema who later taught law at the Hong Kong University and worked for Transparency International in Berlin now resides mainly in London.

"The UN maintains a roster of human right experts from whom special rappoteurs are chosen by the UN Commission on Human Rights. An NGO or a government can recommend names for inclusion on the roster. My name was submitted last year by the Sri Lanka mission in Geneva," Mr. Jayawickrema said.

"If a person is invited by the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission to be a special rapporteur, it is for that person to decide whether to accept," he added.
The UN pays an honorarium of one US dollar a year for the post.

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