Born on 14 October 1944 in Sri Lanka, Basil Fernando has been active in human rights and social action issues continuously from his youth. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Ceylon, Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1972, and then became an ESL teacher at the University of Sri Jayawardanapura for eight years. He practiced law from 1980 to 1989 at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, with an emphasis in Criminal Law, Employment Law and Human Rights Law.
Mr. Fernando was an Appeals Counsel for Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong as part of a project sponsored by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from 1989 to 1992. From 1992 to 1993, he was a Senior United Nations Human Rights Officer-In Charge of the Investigation Unit in Cambodia under the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). He was the Officer in Charge and the Chief of the Legal Assistance at the Cambodia Office of the United Nations Center for Human Rights from 1993 to 1994.
"The justice system itself being a contributor to violence has been the bewildering experience of most people in Asia, particularly the poor."
Basil Fernando | Human Rights Activist, Jurist, Author, Poet
Fernando served as the Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) from 1994 to 2010, and is now the Director of Policy and Programs. He is the author of several books on human rights related issues and legal reform issues including Problems Facing the Cambodian Legal System, Demoralization and Hope - A Comparative Study of the Ideas of N.F.S. Grungtvig of Denmark and B.R. Ambedkar of India, Modernization vs Militarization: Ethnic Conflict & Labour in Sri Lanka, Modernization vs Militarization: Ethnic Conflict & Labour in Sri Lanka, The Inability to Prosecute, Power vs Conscience, The Right to Speak Loudly, Sri Lanka’s Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System, Sri Lanka: Impunity, Criminal Justice & Human Rights and Gyges’ Right: The 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. He co-wrote The Phantom Limb with Martin Koch Andersen. Fernando has co-edited several books including Decline of Fair Trial in Asia, and has contributed a wealth of articles to academic journals, popular magazines and newspapers.
He is the Chief Editor of the monthly magazine "Human Rights SOLIDARITY," and editor of "Article 2" (referring to Article 2 of ICCPR) a quarterly magazine. He has initiated programmes for creating a popular culture of human rights though monuments and creative works in Sri Lanka. Mr. Fernando has conducted nearly 100 workshops and consultations on Reconciliation issues as well as on diverse aspects of Human Rights and Legal Reform. He initiated the Judicial Assistance programme for Cambodia and the Religion and Human Rights Programme of the Asian Human Rights Commission. In 2012, he co-founded the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment.
Mr. Fernando is also a fiction author and poet. Universal human rights issues are the themes of many of his original works. He was awarded the Kuwanju (Korea) Human Rights prize for 2001, was an Ashoka - Innovators for the Public fellow in 2005, and received the Right Livelihood Award in 2014 for, "his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia.”