Human rights lawyer J.C Weliamuna,
Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, and his
family survived a grenade attack on their home in the capital, Colombo,
on 27 September. He has since gone into hiding, as he remains at risk of
According to the information received, on September 27, 2008, at
11.40 pm, an unidentified gang lobbed two hand grenades at the residence
of Mr. J.C Weliamuna, which is close to a police station (Kohuwela), and
an army camp (Kohuwela-Pepiliyana road). Although damage was caused to
property, fortunately no bodily harm was caused to Mr. Weliamuna or
members of his family.
The Observatory strongly condemns the grenade attack on Mr.
Weliamuna’s residence, and believes it is aimed at preventing him from
carrying out his human rights activities. As a matter of fact, Mr.
Weliamuna has appeared in highly sensitive cases involving corruption and
human rights violations, including pending cases involving Government
officials and members of the police force. On the very day of the attack,
Mr. Weliamuna had moved a motion at the Bar Council regarding a lawyer
who had received death threats due to his appearance in an extra-judicial
killing case. The victim of the killing had previously brought two
complaint against police officers, for bribery and torture. The Bar
Council unanimously decided to act on the complaint of the lawyer and
condemned this interference with the work of lawyers and resolved to
pursue the matter with the Inspector General of Police and other
“I’m still pretty shaken,” Weliamuna
told Reuters. “There is a heavy burden on the state to show that the rule
of law exists. If this happened, they must resolve it. If they don’t,
then no professional will be able to handle a sensitive issue.”
Weliamuna said he could not be sure which of the hundreds of graft and
police abuse cases he is handling prompted the attack.
The Supreme Court last week ordered an investigation into police torture
in a case he is pursuing, and in which other lawyers have already been
The attack, combined with increasing threats against other lawyers, now
puts Sri Lankan rights attorneys squarely in the company of journalists
and civil society figures who routinely face threats, harassment and
murder for speaking out.
The United States and European Union yesterday called on the Sri Lankan
government to provide protection to Weliamuna and prosecute those
“We look to the authorities to launch an immediate investigation into
this act of violence and bring the perpetrators of this crime swiftly to
justice,” the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
The EU said it noted “with concern the trend in attacks and threats on
journalists, civil society organisations and now a lawyer.”
Sri Lanka’s government accepts that it has problems with rights
violations, and that it prosecutes those against whom it can establish
Journalists have long been threatened, harassed or killed in Sri Lanka
for writing critical stories against powerful figures in government or
the Tamil Tiger rebel group that has waged a separatist war since 1983.
But while most threats to media stem from a war where both sides are
accused of rights abuses, lawyers are running afoul of the politically
connected or police acting with impunity outside of the fighting, Asian
Human Rights Commission Director Basil Fernando said.
“If it is like this in Colombo and other peaceful areas of the country,
than can you imagine what it is like in the north and east where the war
is?” Fernando, a lawyer from Sri Lanka, told Reuters by telephone from
He said other lawyers told him they were unwilling to take cases
involving politicians or police, because of a system that encourages
corrupt politicians to keep policemen who are willing to do their bidding
in exchange for political protection.
“Only a few people like Weliamuna were willing, and now we can see the
result,” Fernando said.
Weliamuna said he had no reason to suspect the government would not
pursue his case and those of his clients, but said it would take
“high-level commitment” to produce results.
“I am keeping my fingers crossed that investigations are going ahead,” he
said. – Reuters
Please write to the authorities of Sri Lanka asking them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological
integrity of Mr. J.C. Weliamuna as well as of all Sri Lankan human rights
ii. Order a thorough and impartial investigation into the grenade
attack on Mr. Weliamuna’s residence, in order to identify all those responsible,
bring them before an ordinary competent and impartial tribunal and apply
to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against human rights
defenders and humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka;
iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights
Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on
December 9, 1998, especially its Article 1, which states that “everyone
has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote
and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and
fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, and
Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary
measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of
everyone, individually and in association with others, against any
violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse
discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence
of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights
standards and international instruments ratified by the Democratic
Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
- Mr. W. Dayaratne, President, Bar Association of Sri Lanka, 129
Hulftsdorp Street, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka. Fax: +94 11 2 44 80 90, E-mail:
- President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1,
Sri Lanka, Fax: + 94 11 2446657 / +94 11 2472100.
- Mr. Amarasiri Dodangoda, Minister of Justice and Law Reforms,
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms, Superior Courts Complex, Colombo 12,
Sri Lanka. Fax: +94 11 2445447.
- Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary, Ministry of Defence, 15/5
Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 2446 300 / +94 11
- Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, No. 36, Kynsey Road, Colombo
8, Sri Lanka. Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806. Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 /
696 470. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Sri Lanka,
56 rue De Moillebeau, 5th Floor, 12119 Geneva 19, Switzerland, Fax: +
41-22 734 90 84, E-mail: email@example.com
TAKE ACTION NOW