ne of the world’s most eminent jurists Justice C. G. Weeramantry -- an international activist for causes ranging from inter-religious dialogue, the environment and the destruction of nuclear weapons --- passed away last Thursday after more than half a century of service to Sri Lanka and the world.
Justice C. G. Weeramantry was a priceless gift to Sri Lanka and the international community. Widely regarded as a creative genius, he wrote more than 30 books on a wide range of world issues, with the rare ability of thinking deeply and writing books of substance even when he was being disturbed or while his children and grandchildren were talking or playing around the writing table of this extraordinary man.
One of the proudest products of Royal College, he began his career as a lawyer in the late 1940s. Colleagues and friends say money meant little to him and he often appeared free of charge for poor litigants because he believed that justice is justice only if it is made available justly and fairly to all, specially the poor. His prophetic principle was that he fought for causes, not just cases. His values and virtues, integrity and honesty are a powerful example at a time when the legal profession to a large extent has become a big business with the law being turned into an ass and often a rich man’s ass.
|After he moved to the judicial service, Justice Weeramantry in 1965 was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court. His judgments were filled with spiritual wisdom and prudence. He followed the scriptural principles that justice should come with mercy and that justice without mercy would be tyranny.
In 1972 Justice Weeramantry went to Australia’s well-known Monash University where he was given a prestigious post as a professor of law. From different countries law students came to him and he shared with them the highest concepts and precepts of the judicial and legal services. Thus it was not surprising that the world and the United Nations recognised him by giving him a post on the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Many were the people-friendly judgments he gave on issues ranging from environmental protection and the danger of possessing nuclear weapons. Some analysts believe this dissenting judgment given by Justice Weeramantry on the nuclear weapons issue may have prevented him from rising to the post of ICJ President because all five of the UN’s Permanent members possessed nuclear weapons. For instance the US is today known to possess some 31,000 nuclear weapons, with each one of them known to be 50,000 times more powerful than the atom bombs which caused a human catastrophe at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
In another famous dissenting judgment in the Gabíkovo–Nagymaros Dam case before the ICJ, Justice Weeramantry gave the world a beautiful portrait of Sri Lanka’s ancient environmental wisdom and irrigation marvels. The Gabíkovo–Nagymaros Dam is a large barrage project on the Danube. It was initiated by the 1977 Budapest Treaty between Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The project was aimed at preventing catastrophic floods, improving river navigability and producing clean electricity. Only a part of the project has been finished in Slovakia (the successor state of Czechoslovakia), under the name Gabíkovo Dam, because Hungary first suspended and then tried to terminate the project due to environmental and economic concerns. Slovakia proceeded with an alternative solution, called “Variant C”, which involved diverting the Danube, the border river. These caused a still unresolved international dispute between Slovakia and Hungary. Both parties turned to the ICJ for a ruling.
Justice Weeramantry in his ruling said - “There are some principles of traditional legal systems that can be woven into the fabric of modern environmental law. They are specially pertinent to the concept of sustainable development which was well recognised in those systems. I wish to refer to a system with which I am specially familiar, which also happens to have specifically articulated these two needs – development and environmental protection – in its ancient literature. I refer to the ancient irrigation-based civilisation of Sri Lanka. It is a system which, while recognising the need for development and vigorously implementing schemes to this end, at the same time specifically articulated the need for environmental protection and ensured that the technology it employed paid due regard to environmental considerations. This concern for the environment was reflected not only in its literature and its technology, but also in its legal system, for the felling of certain forests was prohibited, game sanctuaries were established, and royal edicts decreed that the natural resource of water was to be used to the last drop without any wastage.”
As Justice Weeramantry was buried last Sunday, many luminaries said they wondered whether Sri Lanka would ever find a gentle giant and genius to replace Justice Weeramantry.