By Upul Jayasuriya –
It is my great privilege to welcome you all on this historic day when we celebrate 50 years of the LawAsia conference which started in Canberra in 1966. It is indeed serendipitous that, the Golden Jubilee Conference is taking place in our blessed land, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. LawAsia; your strong support for the rule of law during this half a century has been significant and most relevant globally and locally particularly in relevance to the recent past. When the idea of holding a similar conference in Sri Lanka was mooted by me in 2013, the executive committee of LawAsia rightly declined the offer considering the situation as it existed then. The subsequent decision by LawAsia to hold the Golden Jubilee in Sri Lanka in 2016, is an apt honour and a telling recognition of the journey Sri Lanka has chosen to embark upon and moved forward with the dawn of the 8th of January 2015 and the ascendency to office by both the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The legal fraternity in Sri Lanka of all the professions in our land led the change to establish the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and true democracy. The legal fraternity of Sri Lanka was a critical and perhaps impelling factor in the change. We never rested until sanity was restored. Today we look back with pride at our role in restoration of the values I mentioned. Permit me to pay this glowing tribute not only to the legal fraternity in Sri Lanka but the entire legal community of LawAsia, its President Prashant Kumar, former President Isomi Zuzuki and President Elect Chris Leong, who were at the forefront in many a struggle of ours during the most turbulent period of the Bar in Sri Lanka. It is a triumph for the values that we stood for as we believed Edmund Burke, the necessity for the triumph of the evil is for good men to do nothing. Because we did not do nothing. We did everything. The President; Since assuming office you have been the crusader in a battle to relinquish the powers that you were vested with. You abdicated the Presidential immunity.
You restricted the number of times you could contest by an amendment to the Constitution that you moved. Your right to make appointments of judges of the Superior Courts is restricted constitutionally with a new Constitutional amendment you brought in within 100 days of your election. These were some of the dreams that the legal profession advocated fearlessly. You have entered the journey to good governance.
You have recognized the need for true reconciliation in our previously fractured motherland and you are indomitably addressing the measures which are needed to bring about true reconciliation and amity in a united Sri Lanka. It is my belief that, history will judge you to be the Nelson Mandela of modern Sri Lanka the citizen who united our country and its people and created one nation and one people. The Prime Minister, you have been the tower of strength in these endeavours and a true democrat. Independence of the judiciary, transparency, media freedom, right to information and the principles of rule of law have been re-established with the dawn of the new era in Sri Lanka. Our relationships with all the countries near and far have been restored and strengthened with much hope for the present and the future. Many of these goals have been achieved during this short period.
The Prime Minister, We are proud that you too are a member of our profession. I remember that you attended the inauguration of the Lawasia Conference in 1993 in Colombo Sri Lanka as the Prime Minister in this very hall and have always been a source of much strength to the legal profession. You are truly the champion of modern Sri Lanka and future Sri Lanka. Every time you were pushed to the rope you bounced back with more vigour, your wisdom, insight and determination prevailed and brought victory. Abundant Investment opportunities, protection for investments and ease of investments are now a reality in Sri Lanka.
Dear Delegates, You will have the opportunities of making best use of the fruitful discussions and networking that will take place during the evening functions enjoying the traditional Sri Lankan hospitality. I take this opportunity to remember, Ajantha Cooray, the Chairman of the organizing committee of the Lawasia Conference in 1993. He departed from our midst in 2003 during the prime of his life.
We are fortunate to have the President of Lawasia of 1993 Anil Divan and 9 past Presidents with us at this conference. I also wish to make use of this opportunity to place on record our appreciation to a few great people from Lawasia, who stood by us in making this conference a reality. Ladies and gentlemen please give a rousing welcome with a round of applause to Prashant Kumar of India the President of Lawasia, Chris leong, of Malaysia, President elect of LawAsia, Isomi Zuzuki of Japan the former President of LawAsia and my brother Vice Presidents of LawAsia Justin Dove of Australia and Chung wan Choi of Korea and last but not the least the outgoing Secretary General of LawAsia Janet Nevil and her team.
I have long had a dream for the members of our noble profession in Sri Lanka. During the 43 years of history of our Bar Association of Sri Lanka, we have not been able to realize this dream. The dream is to set up a benevolent trust fund to assist less privileged members of our fraternity who encounter unexpected difficulties and are in need of urgent assistance. I am happy to declare that we will realize that dream at the end of this historical Golden Jubilee Lawasia conference. Finally permit me to thank all sponsors and over 40 members of the organizing committee with more than 150 members in the sub committees for a job well done with precision and attention to detail.
Please bear with me as I do not have the time to name all of them. The legal profession has been the strength of many a society and country and the legal profession has fought many a battle and a war to protect the cherished values and standards of the rule of law and democracy.
The legal profession has faced many threats and sometimes violence in its commitment to these causes. I take this opportunity to remember with shock and sorrow the tragic events in Quetta earlier this week with the assassination of the President of the Quetta Bar Association followed by the terror attack which killed and maimed over 70 people including many of our colleagues. This horrific incident brings this truth home to us in a chilling and brutal manner. We can resist and triumph over these threats only if the legal profession in each country and through our region and internationally stands united and strong and gives our unstinted support to our brothers and sisters in the profession. LAWASIA has always led this effort and I know it will continue to do so. I am confident that this Golden Jubilee LawAsia Conference which has over 550 Delegates from across the globe, participating will strengthen our unity and resolve.
I wish you all an excellent conference and a most enjoyable and memorable stay in my beloved mother Sri Lanka.
*Upul Jayasuriya’s address at 29th LAWASIA Conference – Golden Jubilee Conference