SRI LANKA: Implications of Human Rights Lawyers in the Defense Ministry Website

(Hong Kong, December 11, 2008)

A presidential advisor writes to the president regarding attacks on human rights lawyers.

Mr. Vasudewa Nanayakkara, a long-standing politician, a former Member of Parliament and an advisor to the president issued yesterday (10th December) a letter on a publication in the Ministry of Defence website attacking human rights lawyers who have filed fundamental rights applications before the Supreme Court on behalf of alleged LTTE suspects. The letter states that this is an attack on these lawyers and further that most of the alleged suspects have even been discharged due to lack of evidence. As the letter is of importance we produce it below in its entirety.

Vasudewa Nanayakkara 
49, Vinayalankara Mawatha, Colombo 10

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse, 
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka 
Presidential Secretariat, 

Your Excellency,

I write this as citizens of Sri Lanka, an Attorney-at-Law and colleague of Your Excellency and expect Your Excellency’s speedy intervention into an extremely urgent matter.

The defense Ministry Website: carried a Report titled “Who are the Human Rights Violators”. This report was uploaded on 16-11-2008 but still on the web with one amendment. The original Report that appeared in the website is annexed for Your Excellency’s easy perusal.

This Report deals with 9 cases, which were filed in the Supreme Court under the Fundamental Rights Jurisdiction. The intention of this Report is clearly to create an opinion that those who file Fundamental Rights cases for LTTE Suspects are unpatriotic and working against the interests of the country. This Report has the effect of inciting people to condemn the Lawyers and even possibly to attack them. Some of the cases are still pending and my information suggests that most of those cases referred to in the Report was withdrawn after the Attorney General agreeing with the Petitioners to discharge the suspects in the absence of any evidence.

The names of the Counsel who are appearing in those cases are not mentioned in the Report. It has also carefully avoided mentioning the Sinhala Lawyers who filed the cases. The Report has singled out the Tamil Lawyers who filed cases. Exposing the Tamil Lawyers in this manner is extremely dangerous and discriminatory.

Civilized citizens agree that every person is presumed innocent, until proved guilty by a court of law. The so-called terrorists are also entitled to obtain the services of a Lawyer. Further, ‘Legal Ethics’ requires Lawyers not to decline to appear for a client on the basis of ethnicity. The recent happenings clearly indicate that there is a powerful unit operating within establishments to discourage Lawyers in appearing in cases for LTTE suspects.

Your Excellency will recall that about a month ago a group claiming to be “Mahason Balakaya” circulated a ‘Threatening Notice’ intimidating Lawyers. A copy of this Notice is also annexed for Your Excellency’s easy perusal. In late October, Senior Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna’s house was attacked but there is nothing to suggest that there was a fair Police Investigation into the attack despite a strong request from the Bar Association.

I therefore, request you as the Head of the State, to immediately take action to remove the Defense Ministry Website Report naming as traitors for appearing for clients which is a fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. I hope Your Excellency will forthwith instruct those who are responsible for running the Website to desist from intimidating, threatening and inciting against the lawyers for carrying out their professional duties. Finally, let me request Your Excellency to protect those Lawyers whose names have appeared in the website from any form of coercion or physical harassment.

I have no doubt that as a person who stood for Human Rights in late 80’s Your Excellency is sensitive to this issue and intervene forthwith.

Yours Faithfully,

Vasudeva Nanayakkara

CC: 1. Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakse:- Secretary, Ministry of Defense. 
2. Mr. W. D. Dayaratne:- President, Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-045-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,