31/12/2007

Acceptance speech – Christopher Weeramantry

We need to resolve the mutual lack of understanding between the worlds of Islam and Christianity. There is a total unawareness on each side of the richness and inspirational value of the other...

Madam Speaker, honourable guests, Members of the Swedish Parliament, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be one of the recipients of the Right Livelihood Award for 2007. The receipt of this prestigious award gives me much encouragement to pursue the various areas of service-oriented activity which I have pursued over the past 50 years.

The most urgent challenges facing us today often do not receive the attention they deserve, because the public are not sufficiently sensitized to them and hence remain uninvolved. I have sought to do what I can to bring these issues to the public along with the information necessary to stimulate more interest.

Among these topics to which I have devoted my attention are

  1. The illegality of nuclear weapons. It is not commonly known that at least 15 basic principles of international law, achieved through the sacrifice of millions of lives, are absolutely violated by the nuclear weapon. Through my Opinions on the International Court of Justice, through numerous books and articles and through my later Presidency of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) I have sought to explain these principles.
  2. Universalizing international law and making it more acceptable internationally. International law has been cast largely in a monocultural, Eurocentric mould but needs to be broadened so as to take in the wisdom of all the world’s cultures. This is a vast reservoir of inspiration which, when drawn upon, will make international law a truly international system, thus increasing its world-wide acceptance and authority.
  3. Seeking to resolve the mutual lack of understanding between the worlds of Islam and Christianity. There is a total unawareness on each side of the richness and inspirational value of the other and in fact a tendency, born of ignorance, to deride the other. This is one of the most powerful sources of potential future conflicts and needs to be urgently addressed.
  4. Peace Education to all levels of the public from schoolchildren right up to the judiciary. There is a vast amount of unawareness of the work of the great peace philosophers of the past, of the peace movements and of the peace conferences. When this knowledge is more generally available there will be a great increase in peace-related activity on the part of the general public.
  5. Science and scientists the world over are racing out of legal control with resulting damage to many aspects of human rights and human dignity. Science careering uncontrolled is one of the greatest dangers that humanity faces in this technological age. I have written several books on these dangers and also conducted for the UN University, a 2-volume study on the positive and negative effects of scientific developments, which was requested by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
  6. Probing the causes of the rich world / poor world dichotomy, and devising ways of promoting better understanding of the problems of the developing world. This also involves a study of the legacies of colonialism and the ways in which they can be corrected. The growing disparity between North and South is a potential cause of major conflicts in the future.
  7. Sustainable development. How can the world’s repositories of ancient wisdom be harnessed to strike a balance between the needs of development and the needs of environmental protection. I have referred to this at length in my Opinions in the International Court of Justice and I am presently conducting a detailed study of this topic for the World Future Council.
  8. Racial Discrimination including a detailed study of Apartheid at its height and of the ways of countering it. This work, published in 1986, was immediately banned in South Africa but was secretly reprinted twice by the resistance movement and made some contribution to the struggle against apartheid.
  9. Judicial education. The judiciary throughout the world often lacks sufficient awareness of international law and comparative law and this needs to be remedied through continuing legal education and the evolution of codes of judicial ethics. I have been Chairman of a committee of global judges which has worked out a comprehensive code of ethics for the global judiciary.
  10. Legal professions need to be weaned away from their exclusiveness and remoteness from the people they serve. I have written extensively on this subject and this has resulted in the institution of a Law Day or Law Week in various countries including Australia and Sri Lanka, during which the legal profession goes out into schools and public places to explain the legal system to the general public.
  11. Exploring the common core of all the religions. They all teach the same fundamental values and concepts – peace, human dignity, the unity of the human family, environmental protection, the peaceful settlement of disputes, assistance to those in need, avoidance of waste, greed and ostentation.
  12. Exploring the relationship between religious teachings and peace. Lip service is often paid to religions but religious teachings on peace are not practised by those who profess to follow the various religions.

I have through some of the approaches outlined above, sought to make the legal systems both national and international a more effective instrument for the achievement of equality, peace and justice.

There is a vast amount of suffering, injustice, inequality, oppression discrimination and privation in the world today resulting from lack of attention to these aspects. This is paradoxical in an age in which

  • production has progressed to the level where it can provide a life of comfort and plenty for every citizen on the planet
  • democracy and human rights have progressed theoretically to a level of universal acceptance never realized in world history before
  • communication between people in every corner of the world has become instantaneous and easier than ever before
  • technology has advanced to the level where it can provide effective solutions to most of the problems we face
  • knowledge of people’s hardships and needs has become more easily available than ever before
  • legal systems have developed to the point where they cover every form of human activity

In short, the gulf between law and reality, between professions of good intentions and the practice of them, between what is proclaimed in the books and what is practised in the field has grown to abysmal proportions.

I have sought to address these problems through the medium of the law, by seeking to advance the sensitivity of lawyers to their social responsibilities and to divert attention from the letter of the law to the spirit and principles lying behind the letter of the law.

This has involved me in many locations of inquiry and many fields of interdisciplinary research, exploring the much neglected interface area between law and practically every other discipline – philosophy, theology, semantics, economics, physics, chemistry, medicine and many others.

My work has thus taken me to various locations such as South Africa to study apartheid, to Nauru to study environmental exploitation, and to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to study the impact of modern weaponry.

In around 25 books I have tried to explain in popular language what lawyers and the public can do in all these areas, ranging from nuclear weapons to apartheid, and from medical ethics to trusteeship responsibilities under international law. I have delivered addresses on these topics in over 40 countries and written over 200 articles and chapters in books.

I have also written a series of Separate and Dissenting Opinions in the International Court of Justice, seeking to make international law a more universal discipline. These Opinions also provide the basis for informed discussion on such topics as the illegality of nuclear weaponry, the nature of equity in international law and the implications of the important concept of sustainable development.

In short, my work has been wide and varied but it has been on the central theme of using all the disciplines, in combination with the law, to improve the lot of the vast majority of the citizens of the world and to avoid the causes of future conflict which can, in this nuclear age, threaten the very future of civilisation.

Thank you




Judge Christopher Weeramantry
5/1 Roland Tower
Dharmaraja Mawatha
Colombo 3
SRI LANKA

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