Entry to Sri Lanka has been denied to participants of an International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) high-level delegation which includes the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul, and the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy.
Issuing a statement the IBAHIR said today;”The group has had its visas revoked officially, or de facto, notwithstanding the public assurance from Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Chris Nonis, on 30 April in a BBC interview, that representatives of IBAHRI ‘Are absolutely welcome to come in.’ And that ‘…if any institution is formally invited… naturally of course we would [let them in]’.
“The IBAHRI delegation was intending to travel to Colombo, to participate in a conference co- hosted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the IBAHRI entitled ‘Making Commonwealth Values a Reality: the Rule of Law and the Independence of the Legal Profession’. More than 200 lawyers and diplomats are registered to attend the event, which aims to promote scrutiny and discussion on international Commonwealth obligations and values regarding the independence of the legal profession. The Conference is scheduled to take place on 13 November ahead of the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM: 14–17 November 2013) in Colombo where more than 50 Heads of Commonwealth countries will gather.
“Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, IBAHRI Co-Chair commented, ‘We deeply regret the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to deny entry of an International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute delegation for a second time.’ She added, ‘It is not so long ago that Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Nonis was on record saying that IBAHRI representatives would be allowed into Sri Lanka. It is very disappointing that such action has been taken to block entry, particularly as Sri Lanka is incoming Chair in Office of the Commonwealth, and host of CHOGM 2013.’
“The IBAHRI delegation had been issued visas from the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo on 28 August 2013. On 30 October, the IBAHRI began to receive reports from Colombo that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not want the Conference to proceed and that IBAHRI delegates’ visas would be revoked or delegates would be blocked from entering Sri Lanka on arrival at the airport.
“On 31 October, the IBA’s Executive Director, Mark Ellis wrote to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London, requesting full clarification on the status of all visas of the IBAHRI delegation. A response was not received. Another letter was sent to Dr Nonis on 1 November. On 6 November a letter was received from the Deputy High Commissioner, Neville de Silva, which stated there had been a Government decision to have ‘“an embargoed period” between 20 October and 20 November because of the forthcoming CHOGM 2013. The Ministry has said it is not in a position to facilitate any visits by foreign dignitaries, officials and others who would be participants at seminars and conferences during this period’
Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair commented ‘By denying entry to the IBAHRI delegation the Government of Sri Lanka is demonstrating to the world its determination to block freedom of speech and independent discussion in the country, leaving the Commonwealth Heads cocooned and isolated.’ He continued, ‘If the Commonwealth is to have any relevance in today’s world, it must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that Sri Lanka engages meaningfully with human rights.’”