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Remembering Justice C.G. Weeramantry, Humanist Par Excellence

Published 12 January 2017

Weeramantry’s nine years in the ICJ were characterised by several key
judicial opinions which enriched the judicial methodology of the court
amidst ushering in a breadth of creative borrowing from diverse
sources. He is most well-known for his dissent in the Nuclear Weapons
Advisory Opinion 1996 in which he held the use of nuclear weapons to
be illegal in all cases. Even two decades later, the judgment is
regarded as the judicial bible of pacifism and humanitarianism.

Sukla Sen


Rarely does an individual rise above the institution he is associated
with and leave behind a distinct mark of identity that lives on. This
assumes deeper significance if the institution in question is the
International Court of Justice (ICJ). Justice Christopher Gregory
Weeramantry was one such individual. As a judge of the ICJ from
1991-2000, Weeramantry stood out as the conscience of the court, on
many occasions ploughing a lonely furrow in the battle of
international jurisprudence.

Surrounded by Westphalian positivism with its linear line of thought
in the high portals of the ICJ, Weeramantry pioneered a legal
philosophy that challenged the status quo and that promises to live
through the scholarly judgments penned by him. The mark he leaves
extends to various areas of jurisprudence, including international
environmental law, among others.

However, more significant than his remarkable contributions to the
individual areas of law was his evolution of a truly original
philosophical orientation that incorporated the wholesomeness of law.
Needless to mention that the demise of this judicial giant and
humanist par excellence at the age of 90 on January 5 leaves a void in
the public international law scholarship that is difficult to fill.

Born in Colombo in the year 1926 in what was then British Ceylon,
Weeramantry’s early influences were marked by various bitter
experiences with colonialism. This is no small measure influenced the
rising young scholar to appreciate the political dimensions of

The idea that law is divorced from politics and treads an independent
path, which has remained the historical premise of law, was recognised
as a myth. Trained extensively in comparative religion with the
indepth understanding of various religious traditions, Weeramantry
defied the image of a conventional lawyer. This unique orientation
created a young lawyer well versed with the social realities of law
and a keenness of spirit motivated to explore the link between the
physical and metaphysical.

Starting out as a lawyer at the age of 22, Weeramantry’s strong
academic inclination got him the position of a lecturer in Colombo Law
College. His rise from thereon was swift. Appointed as a Supreme Court
Judge in 1967 at the relatively young age of 41, he quickly rose to
become a strong luminary on the bench. In 1972, resigning from the
Supreme Court, Weeramantry joined Monash University, Melbourne, and
served as the Sir Hayden Starke Chair of Law with distinction. In
1991, he was appointed as a judge of the ICJ and vice president of the
court in 1997 until his retirement in 2000.

Conferred with numerous international and national honours, including
the Sri Lanka Abhimanyu in 2007 and Right Livelihood Award in the same
year for his lifetime contribution to expanding the rule of
international law, Weeramantry’s legacy is an integral part of
international humanism and justice.