“Members concealed the fact that their mission was to prepare a report on the impeachment of Chief Justice”

Accusing the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, and a delegation of the International Bar Association (IBA) of withholding information and misrepresenting facts, Sri Lanka said on Sunday that it blocked the visit of the four-member team because it detected “inaccurate information” in the visa applications.”

Because of this, “regrettably, the government of Sri Lanka was constrained to withdraw visas issued, through the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) system for three applicants and the other, by a diplomatic mission,” the Ministry added.

Mr. Verma, who was to have arrived here on Friday to head an international mission to assess the legal issues involved in the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, was forced to cancel his visit. The other members also followed suit.

A much respected figure in the Indian judiciary, Mr. Verma, recently headed a committee set up to amend the Indian criminal law to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for crimes against women. He was widely commended for submitting a comprehensive report within a month.

The Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry said in a release that three persons had applied under the business visa category. They “were issued [visas] on the basis of the purpose of the visit being reflected as conferences, workshops and seminars, while the fourth person had been issued a gratis visa, and the purpose of the visit being cited as private.”

“Subsequently, it came to light that the stated purpose… was not in conformity with the actual nature of the visit. In fact, there were media reports… that this was an international fact-finding delegation with a mandate to probe and prepare a report on the recent impeachment of the former Chief Justice,” the release said.

Admitting that it was aware of the real purpose of the visit, the Ministry said: “One of the delegates is on record stating that the delegation would be interviewing… members of the judiciary, government functionaries, Members of Parliament and the local community. This demonstrates that the visit was not for the purpose of attending conferences, workshops and seminars but undertaking activity surreptitiously which is of an intrusive nature to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.”

“Considering the prestigious reputation of the IBA, it would be expected that the organisation would scrupulously adhere to the rules and regulations governing a country’s visa regime. Further, intimidatory behaviour on the part of one of the IBA delegates towards the Sri Lanka High Commission in London is unbecoming. In keeping with the government of Sri Lanka’s interest in transparency, bona-fide applications for visits of this nature are processed with objectivity. However, in keeping with universal practice, appropriate action would be taken if there is a misrepresentation of information by a visa applicant,” it said.

As per the existing visa norms, the delegation members cannot enter Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan immigration website cites four visa categories — visit visa (tourist, business); residence (employment, investor, religious, student, Indians under the Indo-Lanka agreement, ex-Sri Lankans and their dependents, family members, diplomatic and official visa); my dream home visa; and resident guest visa.

The IBA constituted the delegation to investigate and report on Parliament’s actions in respect of the impeachment, and if there were anomalies and transgressions.

Acting on a resolution Parliament passed on January 11, President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed Ms. Bandaranayake on January 13. Before the impeachment debate took place, the courts had declared null and void a Parliamentary Select Committee’s report, on which the impeachment motion was based.

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