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Sri Lanka: Attorney general affirms importance of IHL at workshop

30-07-2013 Feature

On 16 and 17 July, the ICRC and the University of Colombo law faculty jointly organized a two-day workshop on international humanitarian law. The event, which brought 24 academics and government officials together, provided a forum for discussing how IHL remains relevant in post-conflict contexts.

In his keynote address at the event at the university’s Faculty of Law in Colombo, the honourable attorney general said: “For thirty years our country was at conflict - it made me realize the importance of IHL. IHL was designed to reduce suffering. It applies to combatants and people affected by war”.

Commenting on the relevance of IHL in a post-conflict context, he said, “In the 21st century, we see an expansion of IHL - IHL has evolved to play a role even in times of peace, in post-conflict situations. In these scenarios, IHL is important to create a culture of rights and responsibilities based on principles of international humanitarian law, punish offenders who violate IHL and to provide reparation, where injuries are suffered as a result of the conflict.”

Speaking on disarmament, the attorney general said, “Arms trade is the most lucrative trade in the world – second to narcotics. Therefore, today, we have severe challenges in moving towards disarmament. Countries and people will trade in weapons as long as there is mutual mistrust. As a result, the importance of IHL is increases by the day – to ensure that there are limits when fighting wars”, he added.

The workshop’s participants included: academics from the Universities of Colombo, Jaffna and Peradeniya; South Eastern University, Kothalawatha Defence University and the British College of Applied Studies and; officials from the Attorney General’s Department, Ministries of Justice and Health and the Legal Draftsman’s Department. Topics discussed included civilian participation in hostilities, new methods and means of warfare and transitional justice, in addition to basic principles of international law and international humanitarian law.

Charles Sabga, ICRC regional legal advisor, conducted the sessions together with Wasantha Seneviratne, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Lakmini Seneviratne, ICRC legal advisor, and Ruwanthika Gunaratne, ICRC head of communications. Professor Sharya Scharenguivel, head of private and comparative law at the Faculty of Law, and Chérine Pollini, ICRC head of delegation, also addressed the gathering during the opening session.

Acknowledging the organization’s role, the attorney general noted, “The ICRC has been associated with teaching IHL for a very long time. Even before I assumed the position of attorney general, we had opportunities to disseminate knowledge to future generations. As a result they were able to disseminate IHL with confidence”.