Sri Lanka: Judges affirm the need to address unconscious bias and gender stereotypes in the administration of justice

At a Judicial Dialogue on Access to Justice for Women conducted by the International Commission of Jurists in partnership with the Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute, participants agreed on the need to confront implicit biases and stereotypes that hamper substantive gender equality enhance women’s access to justice.

Thirty-five (35) Magistrates and District Court judges from all over Sri Lanka participated in the second Judicial Dialogue in Colombo on 26 and 27 November and organized under an ICJ initiative on Enhancing Women’s Access to Justice project.

Delivering the keynote address, ICJ Commissioner Mikiko Otani stressed that “it is necessary to focus on and obligate States to take concrete measures to eliminate discrimination against women existing in various forms and in various areas of women’s lives.” Justice Mahinda Samayawardhena, Director of the Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute, also observed that while historical values must be preserved, historical practices of discrimination should be ended.

The Dialogue focused on the responsibility of judges to interpret domestic legislation in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The judges were generally of the view that while the Sri Lankan legal framework largely ensures formal equality, stereotypical attitudes among justice actors, particularly law enforcement officers, typically resulted in gender discrimination and failed to achieve substantive gender equality.

At the end of the two-day discussion, many affirmed that greater mindfulness of their own implicit gender biases would contribute towards

enhancing women’s access to justice and the judges affirmed that they would work towards making their court rooms more gender-sensitive.

The judicial dialogue was led by a leading panel of experts, including Prof. Deepika Udagama, Head of the Department of Law, University of Peradeniya and Former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission; Dr. Radhika Commaraswamy, Former Under-Secretary General and the Former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women; Judge Zione Ntaba, Justice of the High Court, Zomba Registry in the Eastern Judicial Region, Malawi; Justice Gita Mittal, Former Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir; Justice Ayesha M. Malik, Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law and Former Member of the CEDAW Committee; Attorney Mokshini Jayamanne, Co-chair, Women’s Committee, Bar Association of Sri Lanka; and Attorney Mariam Wadood, Legal Advisor, Women in Need.

For further information contact:

Sushmitha Thayanandan: National Legal Advisor, sushmitha.thayanandan@icj.org

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