SRI LANKA: Death threats to Sri Lankan Lawyers 

International Bar Association
(The global voice of the legal profession)
10th Floor, 1 Stephen Street,
London W1T 1AT
United Kingdom

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka

Fax:+94 112446657

Your Excellency,

Re: Death

We are writing you on behalf of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to express our concern about death threats reportedly made to lawyers representing suspected terrorists in Sri Lanka.

In its role as a dual membership organisation, comprising 30,000 individual lawyers and over 195 Bar Associations and Law Societies, the International Bar Association (IBA) influences development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession. Its member organisations cover all continents. The Human Rights Institute works across the association, helping to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

We have received reports that a notice was sent to a number of Sri Lankan lawyers on 21 October 2008 from a group calling itself ‘Mahason Balakaya’. This notice reportedly threatens lawyers representing suspected terrorists, calling them ‘traitors’ and warning that they will meet the ‘same fate’ as innocent victims killed by terrorists. The notice also reportedly warns that they have the names and addresses of ‘traitors’.

These threats follow reports of the incident on 30 September 2008, in which a grenade attack was apparently launched on the home of Mr J.C. Weliamuna, a senior lawyer working in human rights and anti-corruption cases.

The IBAHRI is extremely concerned that failure to act upon these issues contravenes the Sri Lankan constitution, as well as international obligations.

Article 14 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka states that ‘home, correspondence and communications and shall not be subjected to unlawful attacks on such person’s honour and reputation.’ Furthermore, article 20 (1) outlines that ‘every citizen is entitled to the freedom to engage alone or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise’ and article 24 states the ‘right to safe conditions of work.’

Sri Lanka ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1980. According to Article I of this document, all people have the right to ‘freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’ Article 9 of the ICCPR states that ‘Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person,’ and the right to life is outlined in article 6.

We would also like to remind you of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which provide standards by which lawyers worldwide should be treated. According to principle 16, ‘governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference’. In addition, article 18 states that ‘lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.’ Furthermore, article 3 of the General Assembly Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms declares that ‘everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, inter alia, to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.’

The IBAHRI calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure a frill investigation into these allegations and ensure protection for all lawyers working to uphold the rule of law in Sri Lanka. We urge you to take steps to ensure all professionals defending the rule of law are able to carry out their work without fear of harassment and violence.

We look forward to receiving your urgent response, and would appreciate updates on the progress of these cases.

Yours sincerely


Ambassador Emilio Cardenas
Human Rights Institute Council Chair

Justice Richard Goldstone
Human Rights Institute Council Chair

cc. Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex,
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka
Fax:+94 112445447

Mr S S Ganegama Arachchi
Acting High Commissioner
13 Hyde Park Gardens
W2 2LU
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7262 7970

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Document Type : Forwarded Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-FOL-016-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,