A tribute to Judge C. G. Weeramantry


Judge Weeramantry is with us no longer. He passed away in the evening of the 5th January. Perhaps, he felt 90th year of his birth, after serving humanity for so long, was the right time to part. But for those of us who knew him closely and dearly and cherished every second of time with him, we know that it was not enough. But the world order is given and this is the reality. His departure to the heavens will be guided by angels with soothing songs. Let us say goodbye to the greatest man of peace in our time, by recollecting some of his great works for humanity.
Judge Weeramantrywas,undoubtedly, one of the most distinguished and outstanding Jurists in the world. His Judgments and Opinions, various international publications and lectures and Keynote Addresses given at eminent foray, both in Sri Lanka and overseas, all 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 wisdoms. He was the first ever Judge, to bring the religious principles and teachings into the judgements of the International Court. Further,Judge Weeramantry in many of his publications, argued that this notion needed to be widened its scope in order for the peaceful co-existence of all religious and cultural groups. This was vitally important in Sri Lankan context where all major religions are vibrantly practiced.

At the International Court of Justice, Judge Weeramantry derived obligations and legal principles from religious and cultural wisdoms from throughout the world, and advocated that International adjudication needs more be aligned globally. Therefore, he essentially extracted and interpreted these cultural notions in his Judgments.In many of his opinions, Judge Weeramantry, not only quoted from the rich repositories of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianitybut also highlighted the traditions and customs of the Aborigines, Maoris and Incas.
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 Weeramantryalways had a special fear, and expressed 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 does come!

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.
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 Weermantry has also written an outstanding pioneering work on the teachings regarding the environment of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. The book Tread Lightly on the Earth : Religion, The Environment and the Human Future. In May 2016, he was chosen to deliver the Key note address on the occasion of the 800th year of Magna Cartar – yet another honour. He was also Emeritus Professor of several universities around the world.

Judge Weeramantry has inspired 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 TheLord’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 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 of the Third World, 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 Asiaeweek and the Christian Science Monitor and was described by a reader of Asiaweek of 15th April 1977 as “A Magna Carta for the Third World”

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 into oblivion.”

No more need be said to highlight the calibre of this man, (although he had much more contributions), or to establish Judge Weeramantry’spre-eminence as the scholar and jurist. He is a man who has done his outmost for the sustainable development and protection of the environment, for many future generations to come. Sadly, the World has lost a guiding light.

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