The attempted rape yesterday of a High Court judge in Sri Lanka indicates the extent to which the rule of law has collapsed in the country; a circumstance towards which the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has repeatedly drawn attention.
According to media reports, a man broke into the judge’s official residence in the south of the country and attempted to sexually assault her last night, July 29. She is reported to have resisted fearlessly, and the assailant fled after policemen guarding her house and her servant rushed to her rescue. Police believe the attacker may have been trying to take revenge in relation to a case before her court.
That even a woman serving as a High Court judge can be exposed to such a situation points to the plight of other women in the country. Allegations of rape, sexual harassment and other forms of violence against again women are heard very often, but rarely do the victims obtain adequate legal redress. The functioning of the judicial system is very slow, and human rights groups including the AHRC have pointed out that such delays undermine the rule of law and encourage criminality. However, there has been no attempt on the part of the government to address these issues.
This is the first report of an attack on a judicial officer of its kind in Sri Lanka, where up until not long ago there was a high degree of respect for the judiciary. Protection of the human rights of all persons requires that there be adequate protection of judges. The government of Sri Lanka should therefore address this issue urgently, and conduct a thorough inquiry to establish how a judicial officer could be attacked in her official residence. The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers should also intervene in this case, with a view to making strong recommendations in order to prevent a repeat of the incident.