Upul Jayasuriya honoured with 2015 Rule of Law Award in Glasgow, Scotland
Published: 09 May 2015
Upul Jayasuriya, the former president of the BASL, was presented the 2015 Rule of Law Award by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association sponsored by Lexisnexis, at a glittering ceremony held at the prestigious City Chambers in Glasgow, Scotland on Monday.
It was followed by a Banquet held in his honour at the same venue.
Chief Justice of Scotland, several Chief Justices and Judges of the Commonwealth and Bar heads of the Commonwealth were present at the event.
The same award was represented at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Law Conference in the presence of the entire gathering of delegates taking part at the conference at the Scottish Exhibition and Convention Centre.
Speaking on the occasion, Jayasuriya said that it is no exaggeration that Sri Lanka is a land like no other. "In my country the climate year round is between 18 – 30 degrees. Beautiful mountains, wild life, rain forests, waterfalls, rivers and the pristine beaches are a just a few snap shots".
"We are rich with cultural heritage. Sigiriya frescoes on the rock fortress are perceived to be the 8th wonder of the world. Our forefathers achieved independence from the colonial rulers in 1948 with universal suffrage with a bloodless revolution", he noted.
The following is the text of his speech:
"We inherited the best of the colonial education systems. We inherited the best of administration with a refined Civil Service. An immaculate foreign service, a forthright Police service and an upright Judicial service. Much of our rich inheritance was deprived from the nation since the end of the 30 year civil war with the politicization by the Executive.
"The office of the Executive President overrode every other institution and the number of terms the President could contest was made unlimited unlike an earlier two term limitation by the introduction of the 18th amendment of the Constitution. Deaths and disappearances of people remained unaccounted for. Torture was a common practice resorted to by law enforcement agencies even in the most trivial of cases.
"Ordinary law and order deteriorated; abductions for ransom of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese became common. Persistent failures in accountability for grave human rights violations were abetted by laws that vested Police powers with the Army, Navy and the Air force by a draconian Gazette notification allegedly under the Public Securities Ordinance.
"It was unprecedented that the office of the Attorney General was placed directly under the President. For example, in one case a politician indicted previously of double murder had his charges withdrawn and instead given a suspended sentence for unlawful assembly. Arrest and incarceration with political motivation was rampant. In another case five persons indicted and sentenced to be executed after trial, were pardoned by the President and released at the instance of a powerful Minister.
"A Minister’s wife and servant charged and convicted for double murder were pardoned and they walked away with clemency by the previous President. More than 30 prisoners killed inside a prison ended with no prosecution. Approximately 33 persons in custody were killed by the Police ended with no prosecutions.
"Journalists were attacked, kidnapped, murdered and hounded out. Recently it was reported in the Press Freedom Index that we were placed at 162 out of 179 countries. State violence proceeded with impunity. In many of such instances the Bar became vocal. We blamed not only the Executive, but those who carried out the orders of the Executive.
"The Muslim minority repeatedly became subject to state sponsored terrorism, wherein their place of business, factories, houses and mosques were attacked by extremist hooligans. They masqueraded under the guise of protecting Buddhism. Despite the glare of public scrutiny, the armed and police forces in Aluthgama and Beruwala condoned these attacks.
"The inference that government protection and patronage, or at least the blessings of the first family, was afforded to "hoodlums" was a reasonable presumption. Video recordings and individual testimonies of hate speech by them afford sufficient reason for arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. But no action was taken.
"The Bar, headed by myself took up the issues with the authorities. I urged the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police to take action with letters that were made public to no avail.
"It is with this backdrop the Bar Association of Sri Lanka was at the forefront of the struggle to restore democracy and good governance including independence of the judiciary in the country during the last two years. Having just relinquished my office as President, I feel humbly proud to have given leadership to the BASL during that critical period of time.
"With the passage of time, our resolve to go beyond matters affecting our profession gained momentum. The BASL was always alert to any anti-democratic moves and went beyond words to positive and meaningful action against such atrocities irrespective of the personalities and personal sacrifice. As a professional body, we have been forthright and courageous in matters of public importance, come what may!
"In 2013 January The Country’s Chief Justice, Dr. Shiranee Bandaranayake was illegally prevented from discharging her functions. Many appalling appointments were made to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. We did not give up. We fought. We fought with vigor. The entire legal profession rallied around and the Bar did not rest.
"When the fury and the rage of the executive was focused on the Judiciary in the past, we took up the cause of the oppressed and carried the flag ahead and declared war against those responsible. It is we who placed the issue of Rule of Law before the people’s court.
"I too was called upon to pay the price. I thought to myself that "only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live". State sponsored goons from the state Intelligence service were trailing behind me with specific orders. But I survived. The entire Bar and the media supported me. The civil society supported me.
"Permit me to quote Nelson Mandela, "I learnt that the courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’
"We marched towards independence of Judiciary. It is a triumph of the values that we stood for. Permit me to quote Edmund Burke, an Irish Philospher, in the 17th Century; "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"
"A Presidential election was called in November 2014 and held on the 8th January 2015. The Bar was never politicized. But we had the courage and the guts to point the finger to the rulers, authorities and the Police and to draw the line and say "no more".
"We never rested until sanity was restored. Today we are able to look back with pride when Democracy is being re-established. Since the new era that dawned on the 8th January 2015, there have been great many achievements.
* The 43rd Chief Justice was re-installed.
* Several new appointments to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal have been made on merit and eminency.
* Constitutional amendment to shred the dictatorial Executive Powers is now before the Parliament
* It is incorporated in the said amendment that the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the BASL shall also be consulted along with the Chief Justice, President Court of Appeal and the Attorney General.
* Right to information Act is before the Parliament
* The draconian Gazette transferring Police Powers to the Army Navy and the Air Force have been rescinded.
"After a long journey of hatred, revulsion, abhorrence and turbulence we now have reached a phase of tranquility, serenity and harmony. We have reached the distant dawn. The people of Sri Lanka have been afforded a new lease of life. They have paid for it. We owe it to them.
"We can now be happy and content with the Sri Lankan situation. But we cannot rest. It is not rosy in our neighborhood. We heard at the conference that the situation in Bangladesh is not acceptable. The state of affairs in Malaysia is shocking. It is very likely that, Christopher Leong, the President of the Malaysian Bar who just relinquished office, is facing imminent arrest for exercising his freedom of expression.
"A new law has been passed last week on sedition with a mandatory jail term of five years of Rigorous Imprisonment on the exercise of freedom of expression violating on what they called is ‘sedition’. It is our duty and obligation to pressurize the respective governments to drive sanity. "Their failure to act democratically, should result in such governments, their representatives, and their lawmakers being denied visas to Commonwealth countries. These are corrupt dictators. The foreign assets of such rulers should be confiscated. Similar methodology was suggested by Sir Geoffrey Robertson in connection with the Impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake.
"This is the only language they understand. Our actions should be meaningful. The legal fraternity within the global village is one. They are our brothers and sisters. If we fail in our duty, we would fail in all our deliberations and what we discuss in these conferences.
"If you undermine or subvert the rule of law in the belief that by so doing you will protect your regime or system of government, you will ultimately prove to be the destroyer of all that you seek to preserve.
"It is the duty of the legal fraternity world over to be resilient and robust in guarding against the danger of providing a fig leaf of legal respectability to what in reality are oppressive, unfair and unjust systems of law and government, devoid of rule of law.
"What does this award mean to me? What does this award mean to us in Sri Lanka? We too had critics, particularly those who were made uncomfortable with our courage to take up the cause of the Rule of Law against the high and the mighty. Your recognition has made us stronger in our endeavors.
"Permit me to place on record my sincere appreciation to the panel of Judges who decided to present this prestigious award on Rule of Law, Lexis Nexis who sponsored the award and to the Commonwealth Lawyers Association for the honour you have conferred upon me, my country, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the legal fraternity of Sri Lanka who stood by me with all the support and encouragement without whose support we would not have been able to achieve the impossible.