Last Monday’s story headlined ‘Sri Lanka bars lawyers’, quoting Shane Keenan and Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association, was misleading. Your publication is not to blame for the IBA’s crude attempt to castigate the Sri Lanka government when, in fact, the IBA should apologise for trying to sneak into the country a delegation whose real purpose was hidden beneath a veneer of professional interest.
Both Keenan and Ellis judiciously avoided mentioning what was stated in the visa applications of the four-member delegation as the purpose of the visit. Three from London applied under the ‘Business’ category, indicating participation in conferences, workshops and seminars.
The leader of the delegation, former chief justice of India J.S.Verma, claimed he was going on a ‘private’ visit. Neither of the stated reasons was correct. The 11 February issue of the Indian Express newspaper, which quoted Mr Verma about the delegation’s purpose in visiting Sri Lanka, gave the lie to IBA claims, saying the mission’s ‘mandate is to probe and prepare a report’ about the recent impeachment of Sri Lanka’s chief justice. So the visit was neither ‘private’ as stated by Mr Verma, nor to attend conferences or seminars.
Subsequently, Mark Ellis has said they applied under the section ‘conferences and seminars’ as that was the closest to their intended purpose.
This is surely a specious argument. Even normal travellers seek clarification from the High Commission when faced with similar situations. The commission is located conveniently in London.
Strangely the IBA did not seek such assistance. Nor did it inform the commission of the impending visit to Sri Lanka. In fact, it did not inform the Sri Lanka government of its intent to send a delegation, though now Ellis claims that ‘it is disappointing that the Sri Lankan authorities have missed the opportunity to co-operate on a visit by respected foreign members...’
As for Keenan’s claim that ‘no substantive’ reason was given for temporarily suspending the visas, not ‘revoking’ them as claimed by IBA, no government, including I believe the UK, is under any obligation to give reasons why visas are denied, though, in this case, Sri Lanka has been helpful in doing so.
If the IBA wanted to interview members of Sri Lanka’s judiciary and officials who, after all, are officers of the state, it should at least have sought the acquiescence of the Sri Lanka government.
Neville de Silva, deputy high commissioner, Sri Lanka High Commission, London W2