Remembering Our Academy Colleagues

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law announces with profound sadness the passing of Judge Christopher Gregory Weeramantry, Fellow of the IUCN Academy.

Judge Weeramantry passed away peacefully on January 5, 2017 at the age of 90 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Following is a special tribute to Judge Weeramantry written by his former assistant, Dr. Nilupul Gunawardena Somathilaka from the Hague, The Netherlands.

Christopher Gregory Weeramantry


Each and every nation treasures a selected band of very special sons and daughters; the eminently gifted ones in any given domain of human endeavour. Christopher Gregory Weeramantry will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest sons of Sri Lanka and as a Global Citizen of the highest order.

The surname Weeramantry is spoken of with respect throughout the country: Judge Christopher Weeramantry’s father Gregory and his elder brother Lucian earned their spurs in national history, but Christopher was to reach well beyond the national compound. He made his name, and that of his beloved Sri Lanka echo worldwide. None perhaps of the eminent legal and social minds, Sri Lanka gave birth to, ever exerted such an impact on global thought as he did. For there was a personal element to it as well. By virtue of his gentle, mild personality, his irresistible charm - topped by that enchanting smile – Christopher Weeramantry, with enviable ease, laced together strings of friends and admirers worldwide.

Judge Weeramantry - as he was known, was gifted with a rare legal and philosophical genius, a photographic memory, an astoundable energy and a formidable drive and will-power. For all of this, he will be remembered first and foremost for his courageous stand on principle when it counted most, when he was faced with one of the greatest challenges met in the history of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which he served with such pride and honour (1991-2000). His valiant defence, in the trenches of the law, of the unconditional ban on Nuclear Weapons will be remembered as the zenith of his moral endeavours.

Some people manage to rise to the occasion: with Judge Weeramantry, one felt he was hand-picked and groomed all his life to serve the world. Rarely, even in the impressive, century-old records of the highest judicial authority the modern world boasts as the outcome of a chequered process and at the end of a long and winding road, will one find a Judge whose in-depth humanity, truly universal outlook and inter-cultural learning shone so eminently and persuasively.

His stand in The Hague did not come by incident, though. At various critical moments in his long career Weeramantry spoke up on principle on acute political and ethical issues, be this in an academic capacity or in his position as a Judge of the Supreme Court in Colombo. His stand against Apartheid in the final stages of the regime exemplifies the numerous ethical issues of compelling urgency that found lucid, and fundamental, treatment in Weeramantry’s publications.

I was honoured to edit a Congratulatory Volume to celebrate the 90th birthday of Judge Weeramantry, on November 17, 2016. The volume titled One World, One Home, One Law For All, A Tribute to Christopher Gregory Weeramantry, and will appear shortly. In the publication some sixty colleagues, pupils and friends from a range of disciplines amply review the width and wealth of Judge Weeramantry’s multi-faceted career. They address his seminal tenets on such varying issues as Humanitarian Law; Sustainable Development and the Right of Future Generations; Trusteeship; Equality & Freedom; Science & Ethics; Xenotransplantation; Law & Equity; Judicial Integrity and Law & Religion.

The rich harvest of his numerous Opinions and publications marks Christopher Weeramantry as one of the most intriguing legal thinkers of the 20th Century. Paramount in this philosophy were his unfailing belief in the global perspective and in the fundamental equality of all human beings, next to his reliance on the capacity of Man to overcome the unsettling challenges the world faces today.

And something else is noteworthy. In perceiving the role of the Law and the Judiciary Judge Weeramantry insisted on the quintessential unity of the Law; on the imperative of its interaction with Society; on normative moral values and such concepts as Justice and Equity; last, but not least, on the pertinence of the world’s rich cultural and religious traditions - the reflection of humanity’s accumulated experience and wisdom - as sources of inspiration to draw up the Universal Law of the Future.

And this brings us back to Sri Lanka. No Judge in the history of the International Court of Justice was so adamant on revitalising the interaction of Law and Religion. It was a tantalising quest Judge Weeramantry embarked on, not just in view of the prevailing Western legal tradition of four centuries, but no less on account of current clashes and skirmishes.

Still, there is no coincidence here. Not just his Opinions in The Hague, but numerous books and publications, even his poetry, reveal Judge Weeramantry’s penetrating thought on the views conceived in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam with respect to the Judiciary. To that extent he proudly presented himself as the product of that multi-cultural and pluriform religious tradition of his home country.

There is a wealth - not just of learning and knowledge but, what counts most in the final analysis, of Wisdom and Humanity in the tracts and treatises the Judge leaves his fellow-countrymen of all denominations. This is the rich legacy he presents on a silver platter to the World and his country in recognition of the debt he always felt he owed his Island of Serendipity.

Dr. Nilupul Gunawardena Somathilaka

The Hague, The Netherlands