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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

Weeramantry wins the alternate Nobel Prize

Melbourne, 05 October, ( Christopher Weeramantry (Sri Lanka) was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people. This is the alternate Nobel Prize. Justice.  Weeramantry: "... for his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law". Justice. Weeramantry: "... for his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law".

According to an announcementmade last Tuesday by Right Livelihood a Swedish Institute, two others - Dekha Ibrahim Abdi from Kenya for her “effective peace work and conflict resolution" in many divided countries”, and a Bangladeshi solar electrification scheme have been selected for this year’s awards.

The Company known as Grameen Shakthi has been promoting solar energy among rural households in Bangladesh.
The awards also have been given to Percy and Louise Schmeiser of Canada for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights and Dekha Ibrahim Abdi from Kenya for her “effective peace work and conflict resolution" in many divided countries”.

IN an interview with the Asian Tribune, Christopher Gregory Weeramanty said: “It gives me great satisfaction to have received the Right Livelihood Award for 2007.

The award seeks to recognize contributions in respect of the most urgent challenges facing us today.

The challenges facing us today are unprecedented in human history. They stem mainly from advances in technology and the inability of the law to keep scientific power under control. Furthermore science, technology and the military get together in a combination of power which is very difficult to resist. This is the military industrial complex in respect of which President Eisenhower issued his famous warning to the American people in his farewell address.

Foremost among the dangers to the future of humanity which technology has devised is of course the nuclear weapon. This continues to be developed by the nuclear powers oblivious of the fact that their action in not taking steps to abolish their arsenals is a violation of so many basic principles of International Law. It is a disregard also of the unanimous statement by all the judges of the International Court that “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

It is only through a universal observance of the relevant principles of international law that we can have a universal elimination of the nuclear weapon.

It is also not commonly perceived that the danger of the use of a weapon by some group, somewhere, is steadily growing. I have in fact published a pocket booklet for popular circulation showing around 15 reasons why this danger grows from day to day.

While the world desperately needs all the resources available for the alleviation of poverty, the protection of health, the promotion of education and a better life for all, the necessary resources for these worthy purposes are said to be not available. Yet several multiples of the money needed to address all these problems are readily forthcoming for the manufacture of weapons of death. A visitor from outer space observing this strange inversion of priorities on our planet would begin to wonder what has become of the principle of rationality amongst us.

There are numerous global problems urgently awaiting attention, but the problem of nuclear weapons is by far the most important of them. The very survival of humanity depends on this. When the 20th century dawned there were high hopes of a century of peace lying ahead, but those hopes were blasted and it became the bloodiest century on record. We should have aimed at correcting this in the 21st century, but it has opened on a note of war.

If we mismanage our affairs in the 21st century as we did in the 20th, we shall have no 22nd century to put our house in order. Just as the 20th century turned out to be one of lost opportunity, the 21st century is our century of last opportunity. We either put these affairs in order or run the risk of perishing from the face of the earth.

Awareness of these problems, awareness of the legal and moral principles applicable and public education on these matters is the need of the hour. The awareness campaign needs to be carried on from the schoolroom right up to the corridors of power. That is a task urgently awaiting attention from concerned people everywhere and that is what I have been seeking for many years to promote.

What is 'Right Livelihood'?

The idea of 'right livelihood' is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth's resources.

In every generation, there are groups of people and individuals around the globe who valiantly uphold these principles of right livelihood. They should be the stars in our human cosmos; instead their work often entails personal sacrifice, being opposed by powerful forces around them. The Right Livelihood Award exists to honor and support such people.

Christopher Weeramantry is a world-renowned legal scholar and a former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, who has played a crucial role in strengthening and expanding the rule of international law. His work demonstrates how international law can be used to address current global challenges such as the continued threat of nuclear weapons, the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment.


Christopher Weeramantry was born in Sri Lanka in 1926 and studied at universities in Colombo and London, earning a higher doctorate in laws (LL.D.) from London University. He became a judge in the Sri Lanka Supreme Court in 1967. In 1972, he moved to Australia to be Professor of Law at Monash University, Melbourne (until 1991). In Australia his writings led to the initiation of the annual Law Week, where numerous events are organised for members of the legal profession to discuss with and explain their work to the public.

Weeramantry has held Visiting Professorships in many countries. He is chair of the international council of the Institute of Sustainable Development at McGill University in Canada, President of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) and Chairman of the International Chief Justices Working Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity.

During the 1980s, Weeramantry became prominent in helping to unravel international disputes, notably as chair of the Nauru Commission of Inquiry from 1987-88. The Commission was set up by the government of Nauru to investigate responsibility under international law for rehabilitation of the phosphate lands of Nauru, which had been ruined during international trusteeship.

Nuclear weapons have always been a particular concern of his. His book Nuclear Weapons and Scientific Responsibility (1987) has been widely translated and is the major text on the legal responsibilities of nuclear scientists.

Weeramantry was elected to fill the Asian seat on the International Court of Justice in 1990 and was elected by his colleagues as their Vice-President in 1997, while still a first term member of the court. He retired from the court in 2000, having presided over many cases, including the Lockerbie case.

The illegality of nuclear weapons

When the International Court of Justice made its decision on nuclear weapons in 1996, Weeramantry was a dissenting voice. He strongly disagreed with the majority's decision to leave undetermined the legality of one area of the use of nuclear weapons - nuclear weapons in self-defence when the survival of the state was at stake. His dissenting opinion recognised that this exception would in practice be widely used by the nuclear weapon states, and he categorically asserted their illegality "in any circumstances whatsoever".

His book-length exposition of international law in this, one of the most important cases in the history of the International Court of Justice, is regarded as his crowning achievement. "The threat and use of nuclear weapons", he says in his opening paragraph, "contradicts the fundamental principle of the dignity and worth of the human person on which all law depends. It violates the fundamental principles of international law, and represents the very negation of the humanitarian concerns which underlie the structure of humanitarian law."

A global legal scholar and pioneer

Weeramantry has also focused on other areas of cutting-edge jurisprudence, where social questions and theology and philosophy meet, e.g. the impact of technology on human rights, or the environmental principles in international law. According to Weeramantry, international law is "mono-cultural and Euro-centred". He has shown that international law has many other roots. The first writers of systematic texts on international law were the Islamic writers in the 8th century. So Weeramantry has written about Islamic jurisprudence and has repeatedly cited old religious principles as customary law in his judgements. In his book The Lord's Prayer: Bridge to a Better World, he shows how over a hundred principles of human rights and international law lie embedded in the Lord's Prayer.

Weeramantry is still extraordinarily active, travelling widely all over the world to give keynote speeches at major conferences. A book published in association with McGill University's Centre for International Sustainable Development is called Sustainable Justice: Reconciling Economic, Social and Environmental Law, and charts how the concept of sustainable development is becoming important in international law. His book Armageddon or Brave New World: Reflections on the Hostilities in Iraq (2003) was one of the first books to appear on the legal implications of the Iraq War. In this book, Weeramantry makes a very powerful case that humanity will either step back from the error of the Iraq War and reaffirm the essential importance of the UN and the rule of international law, or it will slide into further unilateral wars, and, ultimately, nuclear catastrophe. A second edition was published in 2005.

Another book, Xenotransplantation: The Legal & Ethical Aspects, just published, embodies research done for the Medical Faculty of Harvard University. It deals with the possible dangers to global human rights of the new technique of transplanting animal organs into human bodies.

The Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research

Christopher Weeramantry set up the ‘Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research’ in Sri Lanka in 2001. It rests on the three pillars of Peace Education, Cross Cultural Understanding and International Law as an Instrument of Peace. The work of the Centre covers all these aspects both locally and globally. In Sri Lanka, the Centre holds camps for school children and university students from different Sri Lankan backgrounds, in order to foster inter-cultural understanding. It also conducts lectures and seminars on these topics, sometimes by itself and sometimes in association with organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Centre has also produced detailed reports for the Sri Lankan Law Reform Commission on both the protection of witnesses and the compensation of victims of crime and terrorism.

Weeramantry's most recent campaign: A new World Court Judgment

In its 1996 judgement, the International Court of Justice ruled that nuclear weapon states have an obligation under international law to continue and to conclude negotiations leading to the abandonment of nuclear weapons. Weeramantry is currently working on another case to bring back various aspects of these issues to the International Court, including the violation by nuclear weapons states of their obligations as set out by the Court.

- Asian Tribune -

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