Introduction

In 2017, IBJ launched the “Advancing Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka” project to address the legacy of a 26-year war and series of human rights abuses. The project was designed to transform the juridical system, address Sri Lanka’s “culture of torture,” and establish a sustainable community of legal defenders by bridging the normative gaps in the rights of criminal defendants. 

Impact in Numbers

Sri Lanka has no public defender service, preventing the most vulnerable from having access to legal aid. IBJ has helped draft legislation requesting the establishment of a public defender service and is hoping for it to be adopted. Meanwhile, IBJ has created an app that helps people in need of legal aid find pro bono lawyers. Since the commencement of the project in 2017, IBJ has satisfied all of its three project objectives by enhancing the skills and professionalism of defense counsel in criminal prosecutions, strengthening the capacity of the justice system stakeholders, and bolstering the efficiency of the criminal justice system. 

  • 67 justice system stakeholders participated in the roundtables
  • Over 875 indigent criminal defendants were represented at no cost 
  • 35 awareness raising events were organized reaching 871 members of vulnerable communities (including vulnerable women, rural communities, and illiterate members) 
  • 8,140 awareness booklets published and distributed in 3 languages (English, Tamil, Sinhala)
  • 411 registered users in IBJ Sri Lanka’s eLearning Curriculum
  • 47,432 hits on the Sri Lankan DefenseWiki page

Systems Change

IBJ has an extensive network across Sri Lanka, including academic institutions, civil society organizations, legal aid groups, and bar associations. The IBJ Sri Lanka Roundtables were attended by a total of 67 justice system stakeholders. Lasting bonds were created, including law enforcement officers, criminal defense lawyers, court registrars, the Legal Aid Commission, NGOs involved in ensuring the rule of law, Judicial Medical Officers, senior prison officials, and representatives from the Human Rights Commission.  

High impact successes include:

  • The IBJ Sri Lanka’s mobile app is modernizing the world of pro bono representation by helping lawyers connect to people in need of legal representation 
  • The development of a monthly forum (“Coffeehouse Socials”) resulted in 55 socials, spread amongst 6 main cities, that helped to build supportive and sustainable communities of legal defenders 
  • IBJ arranged for English courses to 20 lawyers in Jaffna to enhance the skills and professionalism of legal defenders
  • 100% of stakeholders who participated in IBJ’s roundtables felt they were able to communicate more easily with other justice stakeholder groups
  • IBJ lobbied its’ draft legislation to establish a public defender service in Sri Lanka to various important justice system stakeholders such as the Minister of Justice and senior officials of the Ministry and the Inspector General of Police

COVID-19 response

  • As of April, IBJ efforts have been successful in releasing over 2,900 prisoners on police bail amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • IBJ and lawyers nationwide drafted bail guidelines for prisoners, which were accepted by the Attorney-General’s Department, with 8,000 remand prisoners now eligible for release.
  • On April 7, IBJ convened an online response meeting with lawyers from across the country, including the cities of Colombo, Jaffna, Kandy, Mannar, and Trincomalee to discuss the ramifications of the COVID-19 curfews.
  • IBJ lawyers continue to visit prisons and file bail applications for new offences and curfew violators.

·        

Defender resources

IBJ provides a wide variety of resources for local defenders, such as an eLearning curriculum accessible online and through an app that also matches legal defenders with people in need of legal aid, a printed Sri Lankan Practitioner Handbook, and a Sri Lanka defender manual which is available in English, Tamil and Sinhala. 

158 legal defenders attended IBJ’s training, our IBJ Sri Lanka mobile app has 287 users, 411 people registered to our eLearning curriculum, and 2,500 copies of the Legal Practitioner Handbook were distributed in 3 different languages (English, Tamil, Sinhala). This is a step forward in building the capacity of justice system stakeholders’ country-wide to ensure an effective and inclusive transitional justice process that protects the rule of law and right to due process.

In Sri Lanka, IBJ provides training, tools, manuals, and eLearning, developed with our partners, funded through grants, and resourced through pro-bono assistance.

Kandy training of Sri Lankan legal defenders.

What we need

There are many ways to get involved, to help make a long term difference. Please get in touch.

Become an IBJ supporter

Contact us at internationalbridges@ibj.org