Visas were issued to a high level IBAHRI delegation by the Sri Lankan Government August 28, the Institute’s Senior Programme Lawyer Alex Wilks told Colombo Telegraph, although the Government has denied issuing and revoking visas for the delegation as a ‘gross misinterpretation’.
“We are now being prevented from entering the country,” Wilks said.
More importantly, Wilks said, the real question is, why does the Government of Sri Lanka want to block a conference on Commonwealth values and the rule of law during the Commonwealth Summit.
Wilks said it would have been a great opportunity for leading international experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, CHOGM participants and the Sri Lankan legal profession to discuss these important issues. “Unfortunately, this is just another example of the Government of Sri Lanka clamping down on debate that it cannot control,’ he said.
The Ministry of External Affairs said visas were sought mid-August 2013 by two applicants from the IBA to participate in a seminar jointly organized by it and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka from 13 – 15 November 2013, the Sri Lanka High Commission in London was informed two weeks later, under intimation to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the inability to facilitate the visas as requested, considering that the organizers of this event had not followed the due process of obtaining concurrence of the Ministry of External Affairs with regard to hosting of seminars/conferences with international participation. A request for concurrence should set out briefly the objectives of the event, a list of participating States/Organisations and any assistance required to be given from the Ministry of External Affairs by way of facilitating visas, protocol assistance etc.
The Ministry said that furthermore the Seminar had been scheduled to be held during the CHOGM 2013 week in Colombo. It was further clarified that during this period all the required resources will be fully utilised, resulting in practical difficulties in the conduct of any events with international participation, particularly with regard to the security and logistical aspects which would entail road closures, non-availability of hotels and accommodation facilities etc. “It was further informed to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London that a decision had been taken to embargo the scheduling of visits and such events, during the period 20th October – 20th November 2013,” the statement said.
The Ministry it is therefore evident that the requirement of visas to visit Sri Lanka did not arise, as there was no necessity since the event could not be scheduled, due to the stated circumstances. It is abundantly clear that the organisers had the option of rescheduling their event outside this timeframe.