(Hong Kong, March 12, 2007)
The Asian Human Rights Commission congratulates Kishali Pinto-Jayawardene of Sri Lanka for being recognized as Sri Lanka’s Woman of Courage for the year 2007. Ms. Pinto-Jayawardene has been given the International Woman of Courage award by the United States. A communiqu?announcing the award states as follows:
Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena has been an unstinting advocate for the rule of law as her legal work and writings on safeguarding the independence of the Sri Lankan judiciary and key constitutional bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and National Police Commission demonstrate.
Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena has publicly called on the government to uphold the requirement to have the Constitutional Council appoint members of national commissions. She has been involved in cases involving the right to freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and equality of persons and has faced politically motivated threats of “contempt of court” charges.
Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena has written extensively in newspapers, journals, and books about human rights, media freedom, and the role of women.
“Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena has served as a trailblazer for women in the field of law, leaving an indelible mark in the areas of legal advocacy, litigation, and the media,” Ambassador Blake said. “She has raised the profile of human rights protection not only in Sri Lanka, but also in international law,” he added.
Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena is a close associate of the Asian Human Rights Commission and has worked closely with the commission on many issues relating to the protection and promotion of human rights in Sri Lanka as well as in Asia.
“We are happy about the recognition given to the work of Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena. These are times when it is difficult to stand up for issues relating to human rights in Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Basil Fernando, the Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.
He went on to say that, “Many have given up speaking out in public on vital issues due to subtle and sometimes even very overt pressures. The undermining of the independence of the judiciary and the absolute power exercised by the presidential system are two of the most crucial problems that have stifled the democratic freedoms in Sri Lanka. Only seriously critical voices can save this situation. Such voices are not many in Sri Lanka at present. Unfortunately, even the Bar Association of the country itself has helped the deterioration of standards by their silence in the midst of serious attacks on the independence of the lawyers. The elite in the legal field have also remained silent while some lawyers have adopted the attitude of cynical resignation. Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena’s is one of the voices which have consistently spoken out against this situation and we hope that the recognition she has gained will encourage others to discharge their fundamental obligations to their community by the use of free speech to condemn extremely grave violations of human rights and to suggest ways out of the crisis.”