His Excellency Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Presidential Secretariat
11 August 2014
We are writing to you on behalf of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to express our grave concern over the reported surveillance of Mr Upul Jayasuriya, President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and to urge the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka) to undertake swift and effective investigations into all reported incidents of surveillance.
The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. It has a membership of over 55,000 individual lawyers and 206 bar associations and law societies spanning all continents. The IBAHRI works with the global legal community to promote and protect human rights and the independence of the legal profession worldwide. The IBAHRI takes a strong interest in the rule of law in Sri Lanka. In 2013, the IBAHRI conducted an investigation into the removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and the independence of the legal profession in Sri Lanka. The IBAHRI continues to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka and has spoken out on a number of issues relating to the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in the country.
The IBAHRI understands that Mr Jayasuriya officially reported incidents of surveillance on at least two occasions. The incidents involved two vehicles: a motorcycle and a three-wheeler. Mr Jayasuriya filed official police complaints regarding the incidents and requested police protection. However, the IBAHRI understands that the authorities have thus far failed to identify the suspects or to provide any protection.
The IBHARI understands that these reported incidents of surveillance took place shortly after the BASL issued a public statement criticising a Sri Lankan National Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) communiqué, issued on 7 July 2014, that prohibits NGOs from conducting press conferences, workshops and journalism training, and from disseminating press releases.
The IBAHRI is concerned that the reported surveillance of Mr Jayasuriya may be an attempt to intimidate him, following the public statement issued by the BASL. Further, the IBAHRI expresses concern that a lack of thorough and transparent investigations into the reported incidents could give rise to a culture of impunity in Sri Lanka, whereby individuals, including lawyers and judges, may be discouraged from speaking out in defence of the rule of law.
As such, the IBAHRI respectfully wishes to draw Your Excellency’s attention to both Sri Lankan domestic law provisions and international legal standards relating to the right to freedom of expression and the rights of lawyers.
With regard to concern that the reported surveillance is an attempt to intimidate Mr Jayasuriya, following the public statement issued by BASL, the IBAHRI respectfully reminds Your Excellency of Article 14 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, which enshrines the right to freedom of speech, assembly, association and movement. This right is also protected in international law under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The IBAHRI reminds Your Excellency that, as a State Party to the ICCPR, Sri Lanka is bound to the terms of the treaty. Furthermore, Principle 23 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers stipulates that lawyers in particular have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and the promotion of human rights.
With respect to the IBAHRI’s concerns over the personal safety of Mr Jayasuriya, the IBAHRI wishes to draw Your Excellency’s attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which states at Principle 16 that ‘Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.’ Principle 17 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers stipulates that ‘Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.’
In light of the above, the IBAHRI urges the relevant Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that all suspected incidents of intimidation or surveillance will be swiftly and effectively investigated, and that Mr Jayasuriya will be provided with the necessary protection to ensure his personal safety. The IBAHRI also urges the relevant authorities to protect the right to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, as afforded under domestic and international law provisions.
We would be grateful to receive your assurances that our concerns will be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Mr Sternford Moyo