By Mass L. Usuf –
He was no ordinary lawyer. He was no ordinary judge. He was no ordinary academician. He was no ordinary thinker. He was no ordinary author. He was no ordinary human rights advocate. He was no ordinary environmentalist and this list of extra ordinaries can continue.
He was a rare human being and ‘The Pride of Sri Lanka’ (Sri Lanka Abhimanya) Justice Christopher Gregory Weeramantry, former Judge of the Supreme Court and Vice President of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Completing his earthly sojourn of this transitory life he returned to the Creator. His mortal remains laid to rest on 8th January 2017.
“All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” (Bible, Ecclesiastes 12:7)
“We have created you from the earth and into it We shall return you, and from it We shall bring you out once again.” (Quran, Chapter 20 Verse 55).
We have witnessed many greats passing away but hardly learn that we, the living, are in the same queue awaiting our turn. The President of a nation and a humble beggar of that nation both stand in the same queue. The certainty of death is an overwhelming truth but man fails to understand this and behaves shamefully or sometimes even worse than animals.
Judge Weeramantry carried a personality that was par excellence. The evidence for this can be found in his numerous scholarly works through which one can surmise the honesty and integrity of this person. Many are the scholars, academicians and judges that we have seen in the past but Judge Weeramantry towers above all of them. His sincerity and unbiased views won him many accolades amongst the international legal fraternity as well as from those in other disciplines. The hundreds of articles published in Journals and around 20 books authored by him is a testimony to this highly distinguished person.
I Will Never Forget
As a young man, I once attended one of his lectures long years ago. For the first time, I learnt a legal aspect of Islam from him. This is something that I will never forget. Generally, Hugo Grotius, the celebrated Dutch Jurist is considered the father of International Law. Grotius’ great work on War and Peace in 1625 is acknowledged as the beginning of modern international law. Judge Weeramantry stated that what we would today call international law were elaborately discussed on the basis of the Holy Quran and the numerous traditions of the Prophet Mohamed, dealing with these matters. These were collated in treatises on international law by Muslim writers like Al Shaibani, around eight centuries before Grotius. Hugo Grotius in fact, was not even born. The prejudiced Western intellectuals are not desirous of acknowledging this fact. This is one instance where Judge Weeramantry had exhibited his true scholarship.
His various statements affecting a multitude of legal doctrines serves as edicts in their own merit. His was no ordinary voice with regard to upholding the Rule of Law. He once observed that there can be no democracy in a country unless the rule of law prevails at every level from the humblest to the most exalted citizen.
Justice Weeramantry’s writings had a strong influencing factor in shaping matters even internationally. His book, “The Law in Crisis: Bridges of Understanding”, which addressed concerns with the growing distance between the law and the layman, and between lawyers and the public inspired the establishment of “Law Week” in Australia. An event whose aim is to bring the law and legal procedure in closer contact with the general public. Today, this event is marked in many countries across the world including Sri Lanka. Once the former Australian Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brenann said, in fact “his service is truly to the whole human family”.
This exceptional human excelled from his early education in Royal College, Colombo up to his Legum Doctor (LL.D.; Doctor of Laws in English) from King’s College London. He has the rare honour of being awarded five Doctorates, honoris causa.
As Judge Weeramantry himself puts it: “The range of experiences to which I was exposed, during my Australian years, bring to mind the observation of Socrates that “I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance”.
To the nation your departure is a loss. To those who know you the loss is greater. When good souls like you leave, what remains for us Sir, who are still living? Life must go on.