SRI LANKA: A grenade attack on the house of a senior lawyer involved in cases relating to anti-corruption and human rights abuses

(Hong Kong, September 28, 2008)

Last night at 11:40 pm in Colombo, Sri Lanka a grenade was thrown inside the house of the leading lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, who is the Executive Director of Transparency International in Sri Lanka, and a well- known human rights lawyer. Severe damage was caused to a part of the upper floor of the house, and the sound of the explosion was heard several miles away. After calling the police and examining the premises another unexploded grenade was found. 

Mr. Weliamuna said that he has all his life had no personal enemies and therefore this attack has to be connected to his work.

Mr. Weliamuna has appeared in many sensitive cases relating to corruption and abuses of human rights. Several cases are pending in which some powerful politicians are the defendants. Last week Transparency International published a report, in which Sri Lanka was listed as 92 on the corruption list. 

Mr. Weliamuna has constantly appeared in many well known human rights cases on behalf of victims of torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances. Last Friday the Supreme Court issued special orders for investigation of a case that Mr. Weliamuna appeared in which a young man from Kandana complained of attempted assassination by some police officers. 

Yesterday morning Mr. Weliamuna moved a motion at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka regarding a lawyer who has received death threats due to appearance in an extra-judicial killing case where the victim had been the complainant in two cases regarding police officers, for bribery and torture. The Bar Association unanimously resolved to pursue the complaint of the lawyer and condemned the interference into the work of lawyers and resolved to pursue the matter with the Inspector General of Police and other authorities. 

“This attack is chilling but not surprising. Threats and attacks are targeted at everyone who tries to highlight the abuses of politicians and state officers,” said Basil Fernando, the director of the Asian Human Rights Commission. “Now senior lawyers themselves are being targeted for nothing other than being engaged in their professional duties to their clients.”

Fernando further said, “even at the worst times in the late 1980s no senior lawyer was targeted. What is taking place is a most comprehensive form of repression with the view to silence everyone who is making any attempt to seek protection of law. This is one of the most terrible times in the country.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Sri Lankan government to thoroughly investigate this matter with a Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). There is all the likelihood of the investigation being mishandled unless special attempt is made for inquiries to be conducted by a competent and independent SIU.

It is also the duty of all the lawyers and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to come strongly in support of one of its members who has taken a very keen interest in the rights of others. 

The Supreme Court and the judiciary also need to take up the issue of the protection of the lawyers. 

AHRC also calls upon the lawyers outside Sri Lanka to intervene with the Sri Lankan government to condemn this attack and also to ensure an independent inquiry by a competent body. 

The UN agencies and the international anti-corruption and human rights organisations should intervene for the defence of one of the best known human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-030-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Human rights defenders, Independence of judges & lawyers,