Controversial Sri Lankan monk heads legal reforms panel

Mr Galagodaatte Gnanasara has long been accused of instigating hate crimes against minority Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Mr Galagodaatte Gnanasara has long been accused of instigating hate crimes against minority Muslims in Sri Lanka.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk long accused of fanning sectarian hatred will head a new task force on legal reforms in the ethnically and religiously fractured nation, according to a government announcement.

The 13-member "Presidential Task Force for One Country, One Law" has no representatives from the Tamil ethnic minority but does contain four Muslims, the country's second-largest minority.

There are no women on the committee.

The panel was announced in a government notification late on Tuesday (Oct 26) and given four months to compile a report so that "all citizens are treated alike in the eye of the law".

The committee has been set up to replace special legislation around marriage and inheritance for Sri Lanka's minorities as well as some for the majority Sinhalese and bring all communities under one blanket law.

Many of the countries special family laws are heavily patriarchal and disadvantage women.

Mr Galagodaatte Gnanasara has long been accused of instigating hate crimes against minority Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country.

He has close ties with Wirathu, an extremist monk based in Myanmar.

Mr Gnanasara served nine months of a six-year jail term for intimidating the wife of a missing cartoonist and contempt of court until he was given a presidential pardon in May 2019.

Opposition Tamil lawmaker Shanakiyan Rasamanickam said the committee is "the definition of irony".

"What is the purpose of establishing a committee if the existing law can't be implemented correctly? The appointment of a criminal to lead this committee is almost a joke in itself," he tweeted.

Ms Marianne David, a senior editor of the popular financial newspaper the Daily FT, said she was "dismayed" but not surprised by the appointment of Mr Gnanasara.

"Where is Sri Lanka headed?" she asked on Twitter.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in 2019 with strong backing from the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy.

He was in charge of the military at the brutal end of Sri Lanka's 37-year Tamil separatist civil war in May 2009 after the loss of at least 100,000 lives.

Successive governments have promised but largely failed to deliver accountability for wartime atrocities and ethnic reconciliation on the island of 21 million people.