Judge Christopher Weeramantry passed away three years ago on January 5, 2017. He rendered unmatched service to humanity for a long period of time. Until he parted at the age of ninety he wrote and spoke so much on world peace. His dream of serving mankind was through world of peace. He has left a legacy for others to follow his vision. His efforts are being pursued by several counties such as Canada, Australia and to a lesser degree Sri Lanka. His work and thoughts need to be presented to the students of today for them to follow him as a role model. We often admire and adopt role models of other nations and cultures forgetting our own achievers at the highest levels. He always loved talking to students. Now he is no more and it is incumbent upon the seniors, teachers and the like to present his success stories in whatever way possible. In this article, I will attempt to cover some such aspects.
Judge Weeramantry was keen to set up an International Peace University and locate it in Sri Lanka. In those days as he told me, with his international connections, he could have got the support of reputed jurists from all over the world and select the best academics to serve in such a university but in the absence of local support, his dream did not materialise. We, in this country have a knack of missing many such opportunities.
Judge Weeramantry was undoubtedly, one of the most distinguished and outstanding Jurists in the world. His Judgments and Opinions, various international publications, lectures and keynote addresses given to eminent men all over the world stand testament to his erudite scholarship and his extraordinary ability to interpret the underlying philosophy of legal principles, congruent with the teachings of global religious and cultural wisdom. He was the first ever Judge, to bring the religious principles and teachings into the judgements of the International Court. Judge Weeramantry in many of his publications, argued that this notion needed to be widened its scope for the peaceful co-existence of all religious and cultural groups. This was vitally important in the Sri Lankan context where all major religions are vibrantly practiced.
He always loved talking to students. Now he is no more and it is incumbent upon the seniors, teachers and the like to present his success stories in whatever way possible
At the International Court of Justice, Judge Weeramantry derived his deliberations and legal principles from religious and cultural wisdom from throughout the world and advocated that International adjudication needs to be aligned globally. Therefore, he essentially extracted and interpreted these cultural notions in his Judgments. In many of his opinions, he quoted from the rich teachings of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity and highlighted the traditions of other cultures. In his last days from the hospital bed he completed the last piece of work on the Lord’s Prayer. He has written and spoken extensively on all major religions. The writer had the privilege of presenting his book Islamic Jurisprudence -- An International Perspective in the Sinhala Language. This, sadly is the only work of his presented in Sinhala. The original book in English first published by Macmillan, London in 1988 was edited with minor changes by the Judge himself and would be published shortly.
His contribution is well captured in the statement by Judge Peter Tomka, President of International Court of Justice in his Foreword to Volume lll of the Memoirs of Judge Weeramantry. It says, “Judge Weeramantry is one of the foremost international legal thinkers of our time. During more than six decades of his outstanding legal career, he had not just practiced law but had been pondering on broader philosophical, cultural and religious issues in the search for justice and the true meaning of law and legal order. Indeed, he developed considerable time and energy investigating the concept of legal order, which in his view should aim at achieving peace and harmony in communities and national societies with a view to forming a truly global world…………”.
His outstanding contributions to International Justice was recognised by the City of the Hague, in 1998, when the City of The Hague celebrated its 750th anniversary. Eighteen areas in which the City excelled over the 750 years were chosen and individuals recognised in these areas. Judge Weeramantry was selected as the most outstanding person who contributed to International Justice. A booklet was produced on the 18 personalities selected and his works along with others were exhibited for a month at the City Hall.
Judge Weeramantry always had a special fear, and expressed it in all his conversations that, should a war takes place, there will be a rain of nuclear bombs. Needless to say that the world is not strong enough to undergo such a devastation. God forbid that day doesn’t come, although it appears to be nearing!
His contribution is well captured in the statement by Judge Peter Tomka, President of Int’l Court of Justice in his Foreword to Volume lll of the Memoirs of Judge Weeramantry
When the UN General Assembly requested the International Court of Justice for an Opinion on the Legality of the Use or threat of use of Nuclear Weapons, he gave the outstanding dissenting opinion, drawing on major religions and traditions from across the world to condemn nuclear weapons outright, and totally illegal in all circumstances. His opinion is regarded as a leading exposition of the illegality of nuclear weapons,and its resultant environmental damage to current and future generations for thousands of years to come. It is his authority which is most often cited when the illegality and environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons comes up for discussion. In August 2016, a special session was held in Japan where he was invited to be the Chief Guest, to commemorate the judgement on the use of Nuclear weapons; a rare honour indeed. In the judgement the fourteen judges on the bench were split in their opinion -- seven for and seven against. It was the casting vote of the presiding Judge that went against the ban of nuclear weapons. If this judgement of Judge Weeramantry had gone through the world would have been a safer place to live in. Sadly it was not to be.
With regards to the environment, Judge Weeramantry has done more than any other Jurist, to highlight the importance of environmental law as a rapidly developing branch of international law. In the words of Professor Philippe Sands, Global Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, “Judge Christopher Weeramantry has made a singular contribution to the development of modern environmental law….… if international environmental law has been ‘Mainstreamed’ then much of the credit must go to Judge Weeramantry.”
Judge Weeramantry has also written an outstanding pioneering work on the teachings regarding the environment of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. One such book is Tread Lightly on the Earth: Religion, The Environment and the Human Future. ‘Tread lightly on the earth’ a phrase he often spoke on, that he derived from Quranic verse. So much was his in-depth knowledge on religions.
Judge Weeramantry was inspired by civilisation, a great deal through religious teachings. He used the deep knowledge he acquired, in his judgements and wrote extensively on them as well. He wrote two pioneering works on the legal content of Islam and Christianity, referring through to the specific teachings relating to trusteeship of the environment, created by the Almighty for human use, on the basis of trusteeship for future generations. The books, Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective and The Lord’s Prayer; Bridge to a Better World, are a tribute to this.
He was appointed Chairman of a committee of judges from across the world, by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to draft a manual of international environmental law for the judges of the world. This was necessitated by the fact that many judges are now called upon in their domestic jurisdictions to decide matters in the developing area of environmental law and often do so without a knowledge of the latest developments in international environmental law. This draft has been made available to judges all over the world by UNEP, and has greatly advanced the application of modern environmental law in many jurisdictions. When he served as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, as the youngest judge at that, he on occasions had commented that the arguing lawyers were not fully prepared on the subjects they themselves were arguing. He was fully prepared on any subject he dealt with. That made him great. A lesson of perfection for today’s youngsters to learn from.
When the United States was celebrating its 200th Anniversary in 1976, a major world Congress was held on Equality and Freedom -- the underlying themes of the US Constitution. Three major presentations on Equality and Freedom were arranged from the stand point of the Western World, The Communist World and the Third World. Of all the jurists, it was Judge Weeramantry who was invited to make the presentation for the Third World. His speech was serialised in various Journals such as The Asiaweek and the Christian Science Monitor and was described by a reader of Asiaweek of April 15, 1977 as “A Magna Carta for the Third World”.
He wrote two pioneering works on the legal content of Islam and Christianity, referring through to the specific teachings relating to trusteeship of the environment, created by the Almighty for human use, on the basis of trusteeship for future generations.
Judge Weeramantry has been a pioneer in seeking to prevent the enormous powers of modern science and technology from damaging the environment now and for generations to come. Sir Arthur C. Clarke the outstanding futurist, often described him, as ‘The prophet of the space age’. In his Foreword to Judge Weeramantry’s work on Protecting Human rights in the Age of Technology, he observed:
“This monumental work deserves a wide readership, because it is concerned with nothing less than the survival of humanity and the necessity of making the right use of the awesome new powers that science and technology has given us...so I am happy to see that Judge Weeramantry outlines many of the steps that must be taken if we are not to follow the dinosaurs
No more need be said to highlight the calibre of this man, (although he had much more contributions), or to establish Judge Weeramantry’s pre-eminence as the scholar and jurist. He is a man who has done his utmost for world peace, the sustainable development and protection of the environment, for many future generations to come. Sadly, the World has lost a guiding light. Lets not allow his contribution to knowledge go waste.