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Sri Lanka denies entry to IBAHRI delegation for the second time, ahead of major Commonwealth summit

International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) high-level delegation which includes the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul, and the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy.
The group has had its visas revoked officially, or de facto, notwithstanding the public assurance from Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Chris Nonis, on 30 April in a BBC interview, that representatives of IBAHRI ‘Are absolutely welcome to come in.’ And that ‘…if any institution is formally invited… naturally of course we would [let them in]’.
Entry to Sri Lanka has been denied to participants of an

The IBAHRI delegation was intending to travel to Colombo, to participate in a conference co-hosted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the IBAHRI entitled ‘Making Commonwealth Values a Reality: the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Legal Profession’. More than 200 lawyers and diplomats are registered to attend the event, which aims to promote scrutiny and discussion on international Commonwealth obligations and values regarding the independence of the legal profession. The Conference is scheduled to take place on 13 November ahead of the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM: 14–17 November 2013) in Colombo where more than 50 Heads of Commonwealth countries will gather.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, IBAHRI Co-Chair commented, ‘We deeply regret the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to deny entry of an International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute delegation for a second time.’ She added, ‘It is not so long ago that Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Nonis was on record saying that IBAHRI representatives would be allowed into Sri Lanka. It is very disappointing that such action has been taken to block entry, particularly as Sri Lanka is incoming Chair in Office of the Commonwealth, and host of CHOGM  2013.’

The IBAHRI delegation had been issued visas from the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo on 28 August 2013. On 30 October, the IBAHRI began to receive reports from Colombo that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not want the Conference to proceed and that IBAHRI delegates’ visas would be revoked or delegates would be blocked from entering Sri Lanka on arrival at the airport.
On 31 October, the IBA’s Executive Director, Mark Ellis wrote to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, requesting full clarification on the status of all visas of the IBAHRI delegation. A response was not received. Another letter was sent to Dr Nonis on 1 November. On 6 November a letter was received from the Deputy High Commissioner, Neville de Silva, which stated there had been a

Government decision to have ‘“an embargoed period” between 20 October and 20 November because of the forthcoming CHOGM 2013. The Ministry has said it is not in a position to facilitate any visits by foreign dignitaries, officials and others who would be participants at seminars and conferences during this period’

Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair commented ‘By denying entry to the IBAHRI delegation the Government of Sri Lanka is demonstrating to the world its determination to block freedom of speech and independent discussion in the country, leaving the Commonwealth Heads cocooned and isolated.’  He continued, ‘If the Commonwealth is to have any relevance in today’s world, it must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that Sri Lanka engages meaningfully with human rights.’
Editor’s notes

  • Journalists are invited to attend a press conference on Making Commonwealth values a reality on Thursday 14 November 2013 (1030–1200) at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, in Bangkok. It will be co-hosted by the IBAHRI and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). Speakers include: Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, barrister and first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Sadakat Kadri, barrister and IBAHRI 2013 Sri Lanka mission rapporteur; and Alex Wilks, Senior Programme Lawyer, IBAHRI. The event will be chaired by Sheila Varadan, International Legal Advisor, South Asia Programme, ICJ. RSVP to [email protected]
  •  The scheduled Conference of 13 November is taking place at the Grand Monarch, Borella Road, Pannipitiya, Thalawathugoda, Sri Lanka (1600–1900) and will be followed by a reception. Ms Knaul and Mr Cumaraswamy and the IBAHRI’s Mr Alex Wilks were due to attend.
  • March 2013 – An IBAHRI delegation undertook a remote fact-finding mission to investigate the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. The mission was conducted remotely following the cancellation of visas by the Government of Sri Lanka for the IBAHRI delegation.
  • April 2013 – The IBAHRI launched its report, A Crisis of Legitimacy: The Impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and the Erosion of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka at the House of Lords. The report concluded that the removal from office in Sri Lanka of Chief Justice Bandaranayake was unlawful, is undermining public confidence in the rule of law, and threatening to eviscerate the country’s judiciary as an independent guarantor of constitutional rights. The delegation found there to be a systematic effort to intimidate and discredit lawyers and others who advocate and promote respect for fundamental rights in Sri Lanka. The report made ten recommendations, addressed to the Sri Lankan authorities and to the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and Member Countries of the Commonwealth the delegation.
  • April 2013 – The Sri Lankan High Commissioner stated on the flagship BBC Radio 4 news programme Today, that the IBAHRI would be ‘absolutely welcome to come in’.
  • Click here to read the transcript of the exchange between Dr Chris Nonis, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and BBC Radio 4 Today programme’s Justin Webb.
  • Click here to download the IBAHRI report A Crisis of Legitimacy: The Impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and the Erosion of the Rule of Law.
  • Click here to read more about the launch of A Crisis of Legitimacy at the House of Lords, London.
  • Click here to watch a four-minute film on the IBAHRI report and recommendations.

For further information please contact:

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