Gehan Gunatilleke is a DPhil student at the Faculty of Law, and a researcher at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights. His research focuses on state authority to restrict religious liberty and the freedom of expression under international human rights law. Prior to commencing his DPhil, he obtained an MSt in International Human Rights Law (with distinction) from the University of Oxford on a Commonwealth Scholarship. He also has an LL.M from Harvard Law School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and a Dean's Scholar in International Human Rights.

Gehan is a former UN advisor to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry (2015-2018), where he specialised in international treaty compliance. He has served on legislative drafting committees that have drafted key human rights laws in Sri Lanka including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Act. His advocacy work in Sri Lanka has focused primarily on combating ethno-religious violence and campaigning against state regulation of mainstream and social media.

Gehan has taught post-graduate courses on human rights, democratisation and development offered by the University of Colombo, University of Sydney and Open University of Sri Lanka. He is currently a graduate tutor in human rights law at St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford. He has authored several publications, including 'The Chronic and the Entrenched: Ethno-religious Violence in Sri Lanka' (2018) and 'Confronting the Complexity of Loss: Perspectives on Truth, Memory and Justice in Sri Lanka' (2015).


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  • Gehan Gunatilleke, 'The Constitutional Practice of Ethno-Religious Violence in Sri Lanka' (2018) Asian Journal of Comparative Law
    Ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka is a chronic problem, and it can be sustained even without the active support of a particular government. This understanding of violence prompts further reflection – both on the factors that drive such violence and the complex relationship between ethnicity, religion, and the Sri Lankan constitution. This article delves into the post-war context in Sri Lanka and examines how and why ethno-religious violence has persisted regardless of the government in power. It is presented in three sections. The first analyzes the current state of ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. The second offers a hypothesis on why such violence has persisted despite the democratic transition of January 2015. It argues that democratic transitions alone cannot prevent chronic ethno-religious violence due to certain factors that serve to entrench violence within the country’s constitutional practice. The final section discusses the relationship between ethno-religious relations, the nature of the Sri Lankan constitution, and the space for meaningful constitutional reform. It concludes that the Sri Lankan state – informed by Sri Lanka’s ‘political constitution’ – embodies a certain structural dispensation towards ethno-religious violence. Until this fundamental dispensation is in some way transformed, meaningful religious freedom and power sharing will remain elusive aims.
  • Gehan Gunatilleke, 'The Right to Memory: The Forgotten Facet of Transitional Justice' in Bhavani Fonseka (ed), Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka: Moving Beyond Promises (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2017)
  • Gehan Gunatilleke, Mike Hayes, Salina Kafle and Joash Elisha Tapiheru, 'Do Recommendations to the Universal Periodic Review work? Examining Recommendations in UPR’s First Two Cycles for Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia' (2016) Journal of Human Rights and Peace Studies 108
    This paper looks at the Asia-Pacific region’s experience of the UPRprocess through case studies of three countries: Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. It examines the effectiveness of the UPR process in communicating existing human rights concerns to the States by focussing on the recommendations given to States, and asks if this information is translated into tangible change in States’ responses to first cycle recommendations. Two thematic areas are selected: non-discrimination and freedom of speech. The selection of these are to capture both fundamental human rights though nondiscrimination, and also to see if the mechanisms allow for individual interpretations in the freedom of expression, which is widely debated in all countries. The study shows that recommendations,which should emerge from a participatory process involving non-governmental organisations (NGOs), too often reflect only State interests, and thus the UPR Working Groups and participating states in many cases do not adopt civil society recommendations when framing their own recommendations. Finally, this study assesses the extent to which the UPR process has translated into real changes in policy and practices in the region.
  • Gehan Gunatilleke, 'The Right to Information as a Fundamental Right' in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution: Content and Context (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2016)
  • Jayantha de Almeida Guneratne, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Gehan Gunatilleke, The Judicial Mind in Sri Lanka: Responding to the Protection of Minority Rights (Law & Society Trust 2014)

Research programmes

Research Interests

Human Rights Law, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion

Research projects