“Towards One World” – Elmo reviews Weeramantry’s new book

Elmo Jayawardena

Weeramantry“My country is the world and my religion is to do good” quotes the author from Thomas Paine. Words are often empty when spoken from high pedestals. Fancy rhetoric and meaningless metaphor rules speeches of most celebrities; often written by experts or coined by the speakers themselves to delude the masses. It is almost a norm across most gilded podiums where pseudo-opulence reigns. The audience sin in silence, accepting words spoken in masquerade. This sure is a norm of the elegiac expressions that spout out from the mouths of the high and the mighty.

But at times we do have the privilege to listen to someone quoting what he believes and then seeing in front of our own eyes how he practises simple virtues that separate the villains from the venerated Judge Weeramantry is a shining example of honesty, integrity and simplicity. The book I review here is a gem, a reflection of the man and his odyssey into a new world. I have no knowledge to evaluate the heights he climbed in the international legal fraternity. It is way beyond me to comprehend. But logic and the words I read in this book clearly dawn on me that the narration is elegant and ecumenical. The names, the institutions and the places that fill the Judge’s stage are luminary. Nothing strange, as the author himself is someone who stands in the highest peak of respectability and recognition in a wide-spread international circle.

The book has a variety of subjects clearly addressed which are of immense importance to us, as the people who walk the planet and the planet itself. The topics so mentioned cover Nuclear Weapons where the Judge writes with great authority and knowledge. He analyses and gives his very valid arguments as to how Religion and Law are interwoven. He places his view on how science and technology should be brought under legal control and pivots in a different direction and talks of a Japanese system of informal resolution of disputes. These are all topics of great value to the future of the human race and excellent thoughts of the Judge conveyed in simple terms that is easy to comprehend to educate the reader.

All that apart, I see here in the book a different story too. Not merely of an erudite judge with flowing robes and judicial wavy white wig. It is not about his arrival in a new land with red carpets, pomp and pageantry and cherubs blowing golden trumpets. But more of a simple man, no different to the thousands of Sri Lankans who migrated, looking for different pastures for different reasons.

“My position was better than that of many migrants as I was moving into an assured employment. Yet, I was venturing in mid-life into a totally new environment, where I was comparatively unknown.”

If I should achieve some success, could that be a substitute for uprooting my family from the accustomed and comfortable lifestyle?”

Such are the words from the Justice himself. The fears would have been the same, as any others who packed bags and left their home land. The path was to the unknown, carrying the load of the loved ones, looking for horizons more in faith and hope than in measured reality. It takes courage, the soft and silent kind, an invisible tally, to venture forth with total responsibility, not just employment and legal laurels, but more importantly the moulding of the brood in a different corral.

The pick of the chapters to me is every chapter. First, the English language is of a class by itself. Then the path change from the higher echelon of the judiciary in Sri Lanka to the ‘World Stage of Justice’ is well-written sans any search for personal glory. It is a total impossibility for me to even dream of attempting to review any of this, I certainly do not possess the wisdom of words or the understanding of the diversity of subjects he talks of. My best attempt I hope will at least scratch the periphery of this vast treasure trove and influence you to follow suit.

Justice Weeramantry was associated in varied leading capacities in international legal matters. The subject of Lesotho and King Moshoeshoe’s evaluation of abolishing Roman Dutch Law is very interesting to read. So is Nauru and the exploitations by the colonial masters and the righting of the wrong through legal means adds a spice of a different kind.

“Rich world/poor world issues, the core of the bulk of world problems today,” Justice Weeramantry brings his gavel down on a paramount issue that has lacerated the human race from the time it became an organised society led by people in power.

His talks of ‘Law and its Threatened Peripheries,’ then switches to the 3000 B.C. wisdom of Gilgamesh in the same breath. The sagacious mention of Sophocles, Confucius, Koran and the Hadiths, the Laws of King Athelstan, Plato and Aristotle and the many other leaders who shaped the thinking of the world paints the pages in rainbow colours.

“For a strict interpretation of the letter of the law could often defeat the cause of justice” says the eminent Judge. The book is filled with jewels of wisdom such as this which clearly depicts the stance he takes in a subject he has mastered. In many other places it is clearly seen that Justice Weeramantry did hear a different drummer and was never shy of expressing his convictions. He lives in Australia and mentions its relatively short history and finds praise for the unrecorded achievements of its Aboriginal people. Lake Condah and the marvels of hydrology established by the ancients of Australia is praised by Judge Weeramantry and he states such achievements were thousands of years before Leonardo da Vinci. His sense of justice rings clear in amplified decibels in defence of the weak in matters where controversy reigns in favour of the mighty.

“I was somewhat taken aback to receive this invitation from the heart of apartheid in the height of apartheid.” So says the Judge when he was invited to a Visiting Professorship of Stellenbosch University in South Africa. His interest was human rights and this was his best possible opportunity to experience first-hand the much talked about atrocities committed in the name of a man’s skin colour. This is a very important chapter of the book which I loved. Again, the Justice does not sit in judgment with a broad sword slashing at everything that is connected to apartheid. His thoughts of the visit and his analytical expressions of the ultra-controversial colour conflict are so very well balanced. Even in this late day of total freedom in South Africa, Justice Weeramantry’s observations and comments on colour injustice is a revelation on its own.

The bottom line is he is non-white, whatever that definition meant in South Africa at that time. His invitation to preach from Stellenbosch’s lily white pulpit to an all-white audience more than speaks for the man’s credibility and its recognition in places where normally someone of his colour would not be welcome. The chapter is vivid, Steve Biko and the physical brutality of apartheid and Rev. Beyers Norde’s discrimination in social brutality shows the vitriolic effects of governance. All this is summed up in the book the Justice wrote “Apartheid, The Closing Phases” which was banned in South Africa. It is very interesting to read how that book was smuggled to the very land where it was ostracised. More interesting is his total analysis, the dissection of apartheid, Weeramantry version.

‘Towards One World” is a book any lover of literature should possess. It is available in all the major book stores. It is a must for anyone interested in the legal field, general life and world matters that are linked to court battles. His English language is immaculate, and the sheer powers of expression match the lucid flow of words that waltz before your eyes. The Justice has completed the second round of the trilogy of his life. I read both, and eagerly await the final account.

Each a masterpiece, of different times, of different places and of different themes.

The common thread is the man himself, who stands so tall among giants and walks so soft and silent amidst the proletariat.

Such men only are capable of writing great books.

“Towards One World” is a great book.

Capt Elmo Jayawardena


The book is available in Colombo, priced at Rs. 2,750.

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