The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) welcomes the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the United Kingdom’s recent public statement that IBAHRI representatives will be granted visas to enter Sri Lanka.
Made during a live interview, broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 30 April 2013, the comment follows the Sri Lankan authorities’ refusals on two occasions to accord individuals of high-level IBAHRI delegations entry to Sri Lanka to investigate the independence of the legal profession and the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Bandaranayake.
In response to a direct question asking whether IBAHRI would be let in to Sri Lanka Dr Chris Nonis replied: ‘Yes, if they come in the official manner in which we or any institution of ours would apply to come to Britain.’ He added, ‘What we look forward to and what we invite is all of you, everyone, to come to Sri Lanka…and make an objective and impartial analysis of the reality of contemporary Sri Lanka.’
During the interview the Today programme’s journalist, Justin Webb, said: ‘Just on that point, because it’s such an important one isn’t it, because this is the association that represents lawyers right around the world, the International Bar Association – if their Human Rights Institute comes back to you and says, “This is what we would like to do, these are some top lawyers who would like to come to Sri Lanka…” They are obviously not visa risks, they are not going to engage in some abuse of the process…if they say what they want to do, will you let them in?’
Dr Nonis replied: ‘Naturally, if any institution is formally invited and has reciprocity with an institution there, as is done [in the UK], naturally of course we would’.
The full interview is available on the BBC website until 6 May. Click here to listen. Also, the transcript is available to read here.
Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association commented, ‘The International Bar Association has long-established links with Sri Lanka’s legal community and is taking a close interest in the independence of its legal profession. We welcome Dr Chris Nonis’ commitment to allow the IBA’s Human Rights Institute entry to Sri Lanka, paving the way for constructive conversations to facility what he describes as “impartial analysis of the reality of contemporary Sri Lanka”’.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR
A high-level IBAHRI delegation applied for visas to enter Sri Lanka on 21 January 2013, using the official online visa application process. The online form 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. Approval to enter the country was suspended on 29 and 30 January in the cases of the delegates who had applied and been approved for entry to Sri Lanka through the online application process. A further 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.
The IBAHRI subsequently wrote to the High Commission requesting visas to conduct a fact-finding mission to investigate the independence of the legal profession and the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Bandaranayake. The IBAHRI did not receive a response from the High Commission, and was not granted permission to enter the country.
The IBAHRI conducted a remote fact-finding mission through a series of in-depth conversations by telephone and via the internet with a range of key players in Sri Lanka, including judges, lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians and civil society activists. 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 was launched at the House of Lords, London, hosted by Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, on 22 April 2013.
- 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. IBAnet