[JURIST] The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) [profession website] Thursday called on [letter text] Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [personal website] to open a probe into death threats allegedly sent by a group called Mahason Balakaya [Lanka eNews report] to the Sri Lankan human rights lawyers who represent suspected terrorists. IBAHRI said the government's failure to initiate an investigation violates both the country's constitution [text, PDF] and its international obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text]. IBAHRI asked that Sri Lanka review the UN's Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers [text], stating:
[The guidelines] provide standards by which lawyers worldwide should be treated. According to principle 16, 'governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference’. In addition, article 18 states that ‘lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.’
The International Commission of Jurists [profession website] has also criticized the Sri Lankan government's failure to act, arguing [press release, PDF] that in order to "uphold the rule of law and protect the independence and security of the legal profession…a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation" must be initiated soon.
The Sri Lankan government has been sporadically fighting the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam ("Tamil Tigers") since 1972 and has been widely criticized for ignoring basic human rights in the process of countering what it characterizes as a terrorist group. In July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused Sri Lanka of creating a de facto internment camp [HRW press release; JURIST report] for those fleeing areas controlled by the LTTE. In January, the country's Supreme Court [official website] ordered the government to stop [JURIST report] the practice of detaining and searching large groups of civilians in LTTE-controlled areas. The same month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour urged the government to continue to respect rights [JURIST report] in the region after the expiration of a 2002 ceasefire. In August 2007, HRW accused the Sri Lankan government of being responsible for a dramatic increase in unlawful killings and other human rights violations [JURIST report].