The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expresses serious concern at the Sri Lankan government’s decision to deny entry to Sri Lanka to senior international figures, including a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice J S Verma.
Dr Mark S Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association stated: ‘It is disappointing that the Sri Lankan authorities have missed the opportunity to cooperate on a visit by respected foreign members of the legal system. It will suggest to the international community that the Sri Lankan authorities are fearful of having independent eyes on the issues of interest to the legal profession.’
The IBAHRI wholly refutes the assertion made by the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry that information contained in the online visa applications was inaccurate.
The Sri Lanka online visa application process provides four options to indicate the ‘purpose of visit’. Option one was selected, to ‘participate in conferences, workshops and seminars’, the category which best fits the intentions of the delegation, which were to hold a range of consultations and seminars with various participants. The alternative options were to participate in ‘art, music and dance’, ‘business meetings and negotiations’, and ‘short training courses’. The online visa application process does not allow applicants to provide further information on the purpose of their trip.
A visa had been issued to one member of the delegation, facilitated through the relevant national diplomatic channels on 18 January 2013 but was revoked on 29 January. Approval to enter the country was suspended on 29 and 30 January in the cases of the other delegates, who had applied and been approved for entry to Sri Lanka through the online application process on 21 January 2013.
The visit was planned from 1–10 February 2013 to meet members of the legal profession, and representatives of government, media and civil society.
Following the suspension and revocation of the visas the IBAHRI was assured that the Sri Lankan High Commission in London would cooperate in the investigation and resolution of the matter. To date, no further information has been forthcoming. However, we remain hopeful that the Sri Lankan government will wish to remain open to international engagement and will reinstate the visits accordingly.
The IBAHRI has previously conducted two fact-finding missions to Sri Lanka in 2001 and 2009.
The 2001 IBAHRI fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka was specifically convened in response to parliamentary attempts to impeach the then Chief Justice. The 2001 mission report found serious threats to the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka and called for constitutional reform to strengthen the rule of law.
The 2009 IBAHRI mission to Sri Lanka concluded that many of the problems identified in the 2001 report continued to affect the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka and that in some respects the situation had deteriorated significantly. The 2009 report specifically outlined concerns regarding attacks against lawyers and severe tensions between the executive and judicial branches.
Both the 2001 and 2009 IBHARI reports on Sri Lanka recommended that the procedure for impeachment proceedings should be reviewed and amended to ensure judicial, not parliamentary, supervision over judicial conduct. Both reports noted that existing impeachment procedures are subject to significant politicisation and undue executive interference that severely compromise the independence of the judiciary and rule of law.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) undertakes regular fact-finding missions to a wide range of countries to investigate issues related to the rule of law and the legal profession. The IBAHRI has conducted more than 40 since 1995 and has only ever previously been refused entry to one other country, Fiji in 2008. Fiji was later suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009.