Sri Lanka: Public statement regarding allegations and threats against Yasmin Sooka by the Government of Sri Lanka


More than 60 human rights organisations and 180 prominent individuals have signed the letter below supporting South African human rights lawyer, Yasmin Sooka, in the face of threats and vilification from the Sri Lankan Government.

Yasmin Sooka has been recently threatened by the head of Sri Lankan intelligence, Major General Suresh Sallay, with a law suit accusing her of conspiracy against the state in response to her work on behalf of victims.

The undersigned organisations and individuals wish to express our strenuous opposition to the unfounded allegations made by the Government of Sri Lanka against Ms Yasmin Sooka. These allegations and threats against Ms Sooka seek to undermine Ms Sooka’s long standing reputation as a human rights defender and globally recognised justice advocate.

Ms Yasmin Sooka is a leading human rights lawyer, activist and an international expert in the field of transitional justice, gender and international criminal law. Her expertise stems from a lifetime of defence of human rights and justice.

During the apartheid years in South Africa, Ms Sooka was a member of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (South African Chapter), an Interfaith body working for peace and justice in South Africa, and later served as its President. She also was a member of the National Repatriation Committee for South African exiles — a body which negotiated with the apartheid government to repatriate South African exiles.

Beginning in 1995, Ms Sooka served on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as the Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Violations Committee. Between 2002 and 2004 she was one of three appointed international Commissioners to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone appointed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In July 2010, Ms Sooka was appointed to the three-member Panel of Experts advising the UN Secretary General on accountability for war crimes committed during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. Ms Sooka was later appointed by the UN Secretary General, in June 2015, to a three-member Independent Review Panel which investigated Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Foreign Military Forces in the Central African Republic as well as the UN Response to the Allegations.

In June 2016, Ms Sooka was appointed by the President of the UN Human Rights Council to chair a three-person Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, a post she currently holds. In addition, Ms Sooka is the Director of the International Truth and Justice Project, Sri Lanka. Ms Sooka is the former Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, an independent non-profit Foundation established in 1996 by President Mandela’s government and the European Union. The Foundation’s aims and objectives are to address the violations of the past and to build a human rights culture in South Africa. The Foundation is also a grant-maker to civil society.

Yasmin Sooka also chairs the Foundation’s Task Team to deal with the Unfinished Business of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressing issues of criminal accountability and reparations for victims in South Africa.

Yasmin Sooka is one of the foremost global authorities on transitional justice, reconciliation and reparations, and was also one of the authors of the African Union’s Policy on Transitional Justice. More recently she was invited by the Security Council to address them as one of two civil society experts in the historic open debate on Transitional Justice held in February this year.

We call attention to the fundamental principles set forth in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In particular, we would like to refer to articles 1 and 2 of the Declaration which state that everyone has the right to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels and that each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The claims by the Sri Lankan authorities against Ms Sooka are an offence not only against Ms Sooka and her organisation and the human rights community but also the many victims and survivors associated with her work. We express our serious concern at the attacks against Ms Sooka in direct retaliation for her legitimate activities in defense of human rights and victims in Sri Lanka, more particularly, to her activities in support of truth and justice.

The accusations by the Government of Sri Lanka against Ms Sooka are in violation of these fundamental international principles, and constitute yet another attempt by the Government of Sri Lanka to distract the international community from the chronic injustice and impunity that prevails in Sri Lanka.

We the undersigned call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to demonstrate their serious commitment to accountability and respect for human rights rather than continually undermining those who strive for those aims.

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  • Co-signatories

    Individual signatures do not denote institutional endorsement unless also included in the list organizations.

    Richard Goldstone, International prosecutor and former South African judge Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Judge Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Ronnie Kasrils, former RSA Minister of Intelligence
    Marzuki Darasman, International human rights lawyer and Member, UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, and Chair, UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
    Jessie Duarte, Deputy Secretary General, African National Congress
    Mary McGowan Davis, Retired Justice, New York State Supreme Court
    Steven R. Ratner, Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School,
    Charles Petrie, former UN Assistant Secretary General and leader of the internal review of the UN’s actions in Sri Lanka in the last years of the conflict
    George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission
    Richard Bennett, former Chief of Staff to UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka
    Philip G Alston, John Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
    Carlos Castresana Fernandez, Spanish jurist and prosecutor
    Stephen J. Rapp, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice (2009-2015)
    Melanne Verveer, former US ambassador for Global Women Issues
    Geoffrey Robertson AO QC, Head, Doughty Street Chambers; First President, UN Special Court for Sierra Leone
    Hon Melissa Parke, Member, UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen
    Chris Sidoti, Expert Member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University
    Maxine Marcus, Director, Partners in Justice International
    Kathy Roberts, Co-Director Partners in Justice International
    Toby Cadman, Co-founder and Head of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers
    Almudena Bernabeu, International lawyer and Co-founder of Guernica 37
    Mary Burton, Former TRC Commissioner
    Monica Mc Williams, former Chief Justice for Human Rights in Northern Ireland.
    Alan Martin, Independent Development Consultant
    Bonita Meyersfeld, Associate Professor of Law, University of the Witwatersrand
    Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham
    Piers Pigou, former TRC Investigator
    Dr Carla Ferstman, Senior Lecturer, Essex University
    Dr Chris Dolan, Director, Refugee Law Project, Makerere University and Visiting Professor at the Transitional Justice Institute & International Conflict Research Institute, Ulster University
    Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights, Stanford Law School, Faculty Affiliate, Stanford Centre for Human Rights and International Justice
    Phil Clark, SOAS, University of London
    Leigh Payne, St Anthony College, Oxford University
    Haroon Gunn-Salie, Artist Val Moothoosamy, Foundation for Human Rights, Johannesburg
    Enver Moothoosamy, Foundation for Human Rights, Johannesburg
    Steve Kahanovitz, human rights attorney
    David Forbes, Film maker
    Heinz Klug, Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin
    Ahmed Mayet, Foundation for Human Rights, Johannesburg
    Tom Winslow, Co-founder of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture (South Africa)
    Russel Alley, Executive director of the Development and Alumni Department, University of Cape Town
    Professor Ron Slye, Seattle University School of Law
    Thomas Unger,
    Co-Director of Master in Transitional
    Justice, Human Rights and the
    Rule of Law, Geneva Academy of
    International Humanitarian Law and
    Human Rights
    Christopher Gevers,
    Law School, University of KwaZulu
    Katarzyna Zdunczyk,
    Senior Researcher, Foundation for
    Human Rights
    Judy Seidmen,
    Board Member, Khulumani Support
    Group (South Africa)
    Jenna Coudin,
    Lawyer, New York City
    Vusi Pikoli,
    Former National Director of Public
    Prosecutions, South Africa
    Bishop Paul Verryn,
    Methodist Church of Southern
    Janet Love,
    Vice Chairperson of the Electoral
    Commission of South Africa and
    former National Director of the Legal
    Resources Centre
    Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh,
    Director of the Southern African
    Litigation Centre
    Charles Leonard,
    Nikiwe Kaunda,
    Team Leader: Human Rights, Access
    to Justice & Rule of Law, Open
    Society Initiative for Southern Africa
    Lukhanya Calata,
    journalist and author
    Nurina Ally,
    Executive Director, Equal Education
    Law Centre (South Africa)
    Catherine Kennedy,
    former Director of South African
    History Archives
    Florencia Belvedere,
    Programme Consultant, Public Affairs
    Research Institute (South Africa)
    Salim Essop,
    former academic and anti-apartheid
    Gavin Hartford,
    former National Organiser, National
    Union of Metalworkers of South
    Pat van Heerden,
    Helen Scanlon,
    Head of Gender Studies, School of
    African and Gender Studies, UCT
    Muhammad Zakaria Suleman,
    Advocate, Durban Bar
    Michael Schmidt,
    author and journalist
    Jacob van Garderen,
    former director of Lawyers for
    Human Rights (South Africa)
    Chris Nicholson,
    author, former judge, founder of
    Durban Legal Resources Centre
    Tymon Smith,
    journalist and author
    Phillipa Garson,
    journalist and author
    Gerald O’Sullivan,
    former database manager of the
    South African TRC
    Nicole Fritz,
    CEO, Freedom Under Law, South
    Vasuki Nesiah,
    Associate Professor of Practice at
    New York University
    George Mukundi Wachira,
    Adjunct Professor, Public Law,
    University of Cape Town
    Sufiya Bray,
    Advocacy Project Manager, Center
    for the study of violence and
    reconciliation (CSVR)
    Richard Lyster,
    former South African TRC
    Mark Heywood,
    human rights and social justice
    activist and editor of Maverick
    Pablo de Greiff,
    Director, Transitional Justice
    Program, Center for Human Rights
    and Global Justice, School of Law,
    New York University, former Special
    Rapporteur for Transitional Justice
    Penelope (Penny) Andrews,
    Professor of Law and Co-Director,
    Racial Justice Project
    New York Law School
    Marlies Stappers,
    Executive Director, Impunity Watch
    Shirley Gunn,
    Director Human Rights Media
    Centre, South Africa
    Karam Singh,
    Corruption Watch, South Africa
    Anwar Suleman Jessop,
    attorney, Ladysmith, South Africa
    Rupert Skilbeck,
    Director, REDRESS
    Alexander Mayer-Rieckh,
    Transitional Justice practitioner
    Na’eem Jeenah,
    Director, Africa Middle East Centre,
    South Africa
    Martin Jansen,
    Director, Workers’ World Media
    Productions, South Africa
    Habib Nasser,
    Director of Policy & Research,
    Impunity Watch
    Howard Varney,
    Human Rights Lawyer
    Bettina Ambach,
    Director, Wamayo Foundation
    Val Ingham-Thorpe,
    Director, Veritas
    Brian Crozier,
    Dee Smythe,
    Chair, National Research Foundation
    – South Africa Research Chair in
    Justice and Security, University of
    Cape Town
    Tshepo Madlingozi,
    Director, Centre for Applied
    Legal Studies, University of the
    Lord Peter Hain,
    Labour Peer and former Minister for
    Dr. Frank Haldemann,
    Co-director of the Master of
    Advanced Studies in Transitional
    Justice, Human Rights and the
    Rule of Law, Geneva Academy of
    International Humanitarian Law and
    Human Rights
    Alan Keenan,
    Visiting Fellow, London School of
    Dr Comfort Ero,
    Africa Program Director.
    International Crisis Group
    Shuvai Busuman Nyoni,
    Women, Peace and Security
    Researcher and Practitioner
    Philip Grant,
    Executive Director, TRIAL
    Carmen Cheung,
    Executive Director, Center for
    Justice and Accountability
    Rawan Arraf,
    Principal Lawyer & Director,
    Australian Centre for International
    Dr. Philipp Schulz,
    Institute for Intercultural and
    International Studies, University of
    Roselyn Hanzi,
    Human Rights Lawyer -Zimbabwe
    Andrew Songa,
    lawyer and human rights advocate
    Richard Gowing,
    Director, The Sri Lanka Campaign for
    Peace and Justice
    Prof. Heleen Touquet,
    Chair in European Values, University
    of Antwerp
    Daniel Machover,
    Megan E Price,
    Executive Director, Human Rights
    Data Analysis Group
    Patrick Burgess,
    Director of Asia Justice and Rights
    Galuh Wandita,
    Deputy Director of Asia Justice and
    Jacob Dlamini,
    Dzikamai Bere,
    Coordinator of the National
    Transitional Justice Working Group
    George Mukundi Wachira,
    Adjunct Professor, Public Law,
    University of Cape Town
    Phil Miller,
    author and researcher
    Rachel Seoighe,
    SSPSSR, University of Kent
    John H. T. Stewart,
    Editor of the Daily Observer, former
    Commissioner of the Truth and
    Reconciliation Commission of Liberia
    James Yarsiah,
    Director, Transitional Justice
    Working Group (TJWG) in Liberia
    Reed Brody,
    international human rights lawyer and
    Counsel for Human Rights Watch
    Maître Armel Niyongere,
    President, Action by Christians for
    the Abolition of Torture (Acat-
    Priya Gopalan,
    Patrick Ball,
    PhD, Director of Research, Human
    Rights Data Analysis Group
    Andrea Durbach,
    Professor of Law, University of New
    South Wales, Sydney
    David Coltart,
    Human Rights lawyer, Treasurer
    General, Movement for Democratic
    Change Alliance
    Siphosami Malunga,
    Director, Open Society Initiative for
    Southern Africa
    Venitia Govender,
    Human rights activist
    Bryan Sims,
    Humanity United
    Hurst Hannum,
    Professor of International Law,
    Fletcher School of Law and
    Diplomacy,Tufts University
    Suzannah Linton,
    academic and practicing international
    Dr Edel Hughes,
    School of Law, National University of
    Ireland, Galway
    Dr Catherine O’Rourke,
    Director, Transitional Justice
    Institute & School of Law, Ulster
    Professor Brandon Hamber,
    Hume O’Neill Chair in Peace, Ulster
    Dr Brian Jack,
    School of Law, Queen’s University
    Jonathan Hyslop,
    Professor of Sociology and African
    Studies, Colgate University, Hamilton
    NY; Extraordinary Professor,
    University of Pretoria
    Otto Saki,
    lawyer, Zimbabwe
    Shari Eppel,
    Director, Ukuthula Trust
    Ray Motsi,
    National Transitional Justice Working
    Group in Zimbabwe
    Nkandla Nkau,
    National Transitional Justice Working
    Group in Zimbabwe
    Paul Themba Nyathi,
    National Transitional Justice Working
    Group, Zimbabwe
    Jestina Mukoko,
    Director, Zimbabwe Peace Project
    Dr Frances Lovemore,
    Director, Counseling Services Unit
    Dr Chandana Mathur,
    National University of Ireland,
    Paola Rivetti,
    Associate Professor, Dublin City
    Rory O’Connell,
    Professor of Human Rights and
    Constitutional Law, Ulster University
    Rowena Pecchenino,
    Professor of Economics, National
    University of Ireland Maynooth
    Richard Ashby Wilson,
    Professor of Law and Anthropology,
    Gladstein Chair of Human Rights,
    University of Connecticut
    Dr Gavin Andersson,
    Adjunct Professor at University of
    Cape Town
    Louise Mallinder,
    Professor of Law, School of Law,
    Queen’s University Belfast
    Kieran McEvoy,
    Professor of Law, School of Law,
    Queen’s University Belfast
    Gino Govender,
    Civil Society Activist, South Africa
    Christine Bell,
    Professor of Constitutional Law,
    Assistant Principal (Global Justice),
    University of Edinburgh
    Dr. Roja Fazaeli,
    Trinity College Dublin
    Andrew Gilmour
    Executive Director of the Berghof
    Foundation; former Assistant
    Secretary-General for Human Rights
    Peter Bowling,
    International Working Group on Sri
    Hanny Megally,
    Senior Fellow at New York
    University’s Center on International
    Dr Arujuna Sivananthan
    Prof Charles Villa-Vicencio
    Emeritus Professor Of Religion And
    Society, University Of Cape Town;
    Visiting Professor, Conflict
    Resolution Program, Georgetown,
    Washington Dc
    Donald Deya,
    Chief Executive Officer Of Palu,
    Arusha, Tanzania
    Gabriele Mohale (Mrs.),
    Acting Head & Archivist, Historical
    Papers Research Archive & Wits
    Digitisation Centre, The Library,
    University Of The Witwatersrand
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    Krish Govender,
    Former Co Chairperson Of The Law
    Society Of South Africa
    Member Of The Bureau Of The
    International Association Of
    Democratic Lawyers
    Harris Dousemetzis,
    Lecturer Of Politics, Newcastle
    University, UK
    Jonathan Sisson,
    Former President Of The
    International Fellowship Of
    Reconciliation (Ifor)
    Justine Limpitlaw,
    Electronic Communications Law
    Consultant, Visiting Adjunct
    Professor, Link Centre, University Of
    The Witwatersrand
    Dr Shereen Usdin
    Aaron Weah,
    Transitional Justice Phd Researcher
    Based At Ulster University.
    Formerly Programme Associate For
    International Centre For Transitional
    Justice (Ictj), Liberia & Country
    Director For Search For Common
    Ram Kumar Bhandari,
    Founder & President, Network
    Of Families Of The Disappeared
    (Nefad), Nepal
    Ben Winks,
    Advocat, High Court Of South
    Eduardo Gonzalez,
    Transitional Justice Practitioner
    Mural Kan,
    Luke Moffett,
    Senior Lecturer, School Of Law,
    Queen’s University Belfast
    Roy Samathanam,
    Taylor Dibbert,
    Adjunct Fellow, Pacific Forum
    Dr Phillip Dexter
    Amina Frense,
    Iqbal Jassat,
    Exec.,Media Review Network, Jhb,
    South Africa
    David Eichert,
    Department of International
    Relations, London School of
    Ronnie Govender,
    Former Forensic Investigator for the
    UN-ICTY, The Hague, Netherlands
    Almudena Bernabeu,
    Executive Director, The
    Guernica Centre for International
    Michael Reed-Hurtado,
    Director of Operations, The
    Guernica Centre for International
    Stephan Parmentier,
    Professor of Criminology and Human
    Rights, Faculty of Law, University of
    Jordi Palou-Loverdos,
    Director i Patró de la Fundació,
    Fundació Carta de la Pau dirigida a
    l’ONU, Spain
    Glenda Wildschut,
    Former Commissioner South
    African Truth and Reconciliation
    Richard Kuper,
    Jewish Voice for Labour
    Human Rights Watch
    Partners in Justice International
    International Centre for
    Transitional Justice
    International Commission of Jurists
    Guernica 37 International Justice
    Chambers (London)
    ECCHR – European Center for
    Constitutional and Human Rights
    Center for Justice and
    Australian Centre for International
    Amnesty International, South
    Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR)
    Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    Refugee Law Project, School of
    Law, Makerere University
    Freedom House
    South African History Archive
    Section 27
    Lawyers Against Abuse
    Lawyers for Human Rights
    Socio Economic Rights Institute
    Centre for Environmental Rights
    Centre for Child Law
    Open Secrets
    Foundation for Human Rights
    Human Rights Media Centre
    Khulumani Support Group
    Southern Africa Litigation Centre
    Sonke Gender Justice
    Legal Resources Centre
    Equal Education Law Centre
    Imam Haron Foundation
    Impunity Watch
    Centre for the Study of Violence
    and Reconciliation
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human
    Kenyan Human Rights Commission
    Ndifuna Ukwazi
    Women’s Legal Centre
    Wayambo Foundation
    Southern Africa Human Rights
    Defender Network
    National Research Foundation –
    South Africa Research Chair in
    Justice and Security, University of
    Cape Town
    Veritas, Zimbabwe
    Centre for Law & Society,
    University of Cape Town
    Transitional Justice Working
    Group (TJWG), Liberia
    Actions by Christians for Abolition
    of Torture (ACAT-Burundi)
    SOAS Centre for Human Rights
    Law, University of London
    Ukuthula Trust Zimbabwe
    Scholars at Risk Network Ireland
    Counseling Services Unit,
    International Federation for
    Human Rights (FIDH), within the
    framework of the Observatory for
    the Protection of Human Rights
    World Organisation Against
    Torture (OMCT), within the
    framework of the Observatory for
    the Protection of Human Rights
    Freedom from Torture,
    Centre for Applied Legal Studies,
    University of the Witwatersrand
    Contra Nocendi International
    South Africa Bds Coalition
    Pan African Lawyers’ Union (Palu),
    Arusha, Tanzania
    People’s Rights Group, Sri Lanka
    Jewish Voice for Labour, South

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