The Future Of Tamil Parliamentarians In Sri Lanka
The Future Of Tamil Parliamentarians In Sri Lanka
The murder of Parliamentarian Raviraj
(Cantab), MBBChir (Cantab), MBBS(Hons) (Lond)
MD (Lond), FRCP(Lond) FRACP
Physician, Brisbane , Australia
On 10 November 2006, yet another leading Tamil Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament was gunned down in Colombo by a supposedly ‘unknown’ gunman. This is a new Sri Lankan term which is synonymous with ‘The Armed Forces and their Paramilitaries who do their dirty work’. There are no ‘unknown gunmen’ as such.
Nadarajah Raviraj (44), Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian for Jaffna district, one of only a few Tamil MPs who could voice, in English, the suffering of the Tamil people in the North and East, was assassinated in broad daylight in the heart of Colombo, in full view of scores of people.
Even at the cost of making this article too long, it is crucial to detail the record of the man, since it is these educated, articulate, outspoken, Tamils, future leaders of the Tamil people, who are being specifically targetted by the murderous Sinhalese regime in Colombo. Raviraj is not the first, nor will he be the last, unless the full weight of international public opinion is brought to bear on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL).
Raviraj, born in 1962 in Jaffna (Chavakachcheri), was educated in one of the famous mission schools in Jaffna, St. John’s College. Embarking on a legal career, he became an Attorney at Law in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 1987. He practiced in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court, both in the Tamil Northeast and the Sinhalese South. His law firm, Raviraj & Associates, specialised in dealing with cases involving the most repressive and notorious legislations in Sri Lanka - the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Emergency Regulations.
He also worked for some 10 years as a human rights lawyer in Colombo’s “Home for Human Rights”, which I have strongly supported.
Ravitaj joined the then main Tamil political party, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), in 1987. His ability was such that he rapidly rose in the Party, appointed to the Central Committee in 1990, legal advisor in 1998, the political bureau in 2000, and the following year becoming the Party’s Administrative Secretary.
In 2001 he became the Mayor of Jaffna. In the 2001 General Elections, he was elected to Parliament as the MP for Jaffna District, and re-elected in 2004.
There is not the slightest doubt that Raviraj was leadership material. He had a major role to play in Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. Therein lay his problem and the imperative ‘need’ for the GOSL and the Armed Forces to ‘take him out’.
He had a major interest in conflict resolution (a crying need in that war-ravaged country) and participated in workshops hosted by the Institute of Federation in Switzerland, the Conrad Adenauer Foundation in Germany and the Peace Institute in Austria, among many others.
With a marked deterioration in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka in 2006, Raviraj worked with Sinhalese and Tamils in the Civil Monitoring Committee, monitoring extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, ‘activities’ which have been extensively documented by Amnesty International and every international human rights group in the world.
My meeting with him
I met Raviraj some years ago when he was visiting Melbourne, Australia. He and I addressed a public meeting in Melbourne on the situation in Sri Lanka. After my address, I noticed that he was one of the first in the audience to rise to his feet and applaud.
At the end of the meeting, he told me that he had never heard a Sinhalese speak the way I did, adding, “What makes you do it?” Before I could reply, someone whispered, “He is Edmund Samarakkody’s nephew”. (He was my mother’s brother, a lawyer like Raviraj and one of his ‘heroes’, and was one of a very few Sinhalese who had campaigned for Tamil rights over some four decades). The enlightened Raviraj smiled, and said, “That explains it. It must be genetic”!
We spent the rest of the evening discussing the struggle of the Tamil people for justice, and the developing chaos in the Sinhalese South. We have been friends ever since. He has often telephoned me from Sri Lanka to ask when I would come and visit him there.
The background to the murder
Since early 2006, the Armed Forces of the GOSL have been targeting the Tamil areas – Trincomalee in the East, Mannar in the North West, and parts of the Jaffna Peninsula. The Indiscriminate bombing and shelling of these areas have caused a major humanitarian disaster, with civilians fleeing the conflict zone, adding to the monumental refugee problem caused by the December 2004 Tsunami which caused such serious damage in the Northeast and East. The numbers involved were massive - some 200,000 refugees (“Internally Displaced People” – IDPs), mainly Tamil civilians and a lesser number of Muslims.
The movement of these people and their numbers are on the UNHCR website (1). As can be seen, the number of IDPs in the Batticaloa District alone, as of 31 October 2006, was 55,126.
At the northern part of the Batticaloa district is a village, Vaharai, north of which is a densely populated coastal hamlet, Kathiraveli, where several thousand IDPs sought shelter. On 8 November 2006, the GOSL decided to bomb a school in Kathiraveli where the refugees were accommodated. Some 65 civilians were killed and more than 125 injured. With limited medical facilities, more are likely to die of their injuries.
prevented from visiting the scene
In what can be only described as unbelievable highhandedness, Ambassador Allan Rock was prevented by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces from visiting the site of the bombing.
Ambassador Rock is Special Advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for children in armed conflict. He is currently visiting the island to study the situation first hand and report to the Special Representative. On his schedule, drawn well ahead of the bombing by the GOSL, was a visit to Vaharai.
After being kept waiting for several hours, when the Ambassador was finally allowed to proceed, he had less than half an hour to discuss what had happened with the affected people.
There has been widespread international condemnation of this outrageous bombing of refugees by the GOSL and its military. Important though this is, it is not enough to prevent more atrocities.
Amnesty International (AI)
AI, released an immediate Report on 8 November 2006 (ASA 37/032/2006)
'”Amnesty International is appalled that the military should attack a camp for displaced people - these were civilians who had already been forced from their homes because of the conflict. Amnesty International condemns all attacks on civilians and is particularly saddened and shocked to see such a large-scale attack on civilians' just days after the government's announcement of its Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses”..
The Nordic Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission statement:
Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission:-
"Our monitors saw there were no military installations in the camp area, so we would certainly like some answers from the military regarding the nature and reasons of this attack,"
The International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC), in a press release the day after the
bombing, deplored the tragic loss of life and injury to
civilians resulting from the Wednesday shelling of the
densely populated area of Kathiraveli, a coastal hamlet
north of Vaharai, where several thousand internally
displaced people had sought shelter.
The Sri Lankan Government response
The response of the GOSL is so absurd as to be hardly worth recording.
“While we regret this whole episode, we also say that national security is utmost and it has to be maintained, and as such defensive action by the authorities is something that is inevitable," said Keheliya Rambukwella, Defence spokesman and a Minister in the Rajapakse Government, whose ‘explanations’ of this (and other recent atrocities, in particular the recent GOSL bombing of an orphanage in the Tamil area has been beyond comprehension). They are not ‘explanations’ but downright lies – in ordinary English. They are lies that have been exposed by international observers who visited the orphanage soon after the bombing.
Tamil parliamentarians protest
On 9 November 2006, some 15 MPs, Raviraj included, from the main Tamil political party, the Tamil national Alliance (TNA) protested opposite the United Nations Colombo office, calling for the UN to pressure the GOSL to prevent such attacks. A memorandum signed by the MPs was submitted to the Secretary General UN and to the head of the UN children’s Fund through the Colombo UN office.
Raviraj is 2nd from the left carrying the banner “UNHCR, UNICEF why are you SILENT?”
The assassination of Raviraj
The following morning (10.11.06) Raviraj had returned to the residence of MPs at Manning Town, Narahenpitiya in Colombo, after an early TV interview . He was driving to his office with his body-guard sitting next to him.
A motorcycle with a pillion rider approached his official land cruiser. The pillion-rider carrying a bag, got off the cycle, walked across the road and emptied the entire magazine of the automatic rifle which was in the bag. He dropped the bag with the gun (a T-56), got back on the cycle and sped off. All this was in full view of dozens of people.
Raviraj was critically injured and died shortly after (9.20 am) in Colombo’s National Hospital. His bodyguard was dead on arrival at the hospital.
The ‘efficiency’ of the Sri Lankan media.
As anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Sri Lanka knows, things do not move too fast in Sri Lanka. This was the exception. The Media Centre for National Security of the Ministry of Defence, National Security, Law and Order. lost no time. Just 17 minutes after Raviraj was pronounced dead, it proclaimed “Parliamentarian Raviraj shot dead”.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has instructed Inspector - General of Police Victor Perera to conduct a speedy probe into the killing. Rajapakse has also initiated steps to bring in Scotland Yard detectives from Britain to assist in the investigation.
A top Police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Police, if allowed to function independently, could “crack ” the case easily. “We don’t need Scotland Yard. We can do it but will we be allowed to do so”? He asked. There are no prizes for guessing the answer.
I might add that an Inquiry, with or without Scotland Yard, is an exercise in futility. When
Tamil Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was gunned down in Church a year ago, in front of hundreds of worshippers, the assassin was identified and the details supplied to President Rajapakse by TNA Parliamentarians, including Raviraj. No action has been taken.
As for Scotland Yard, when expatriate Tamils offered to finance the cost of getting Scotland Yard to Sri Lanka to investigate the murder of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the GOSL refused the offer. The murder remains unresolved before the Supreme Court. The reason is that the evidence points in an entirely different direction to what the GOSL (and the International Community) claim – the Tamil Tigers
The Sri Lankan Opposition response to the murder
Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the Opposition and head of the United National Party said,
“Within a year of parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham’s assassination, Raviraj has been killed. This is a threat to democracy. We strongly condemn this cowardly act and urge the government to take legal actions to bring the killers to justice besides providing adequate security measures to Tamil parliamentarians”.
It is of interest that Wickremesinghe’s UNP has just (12 October 2006) signed a MoU with Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party. If Wickremesinghe was as concerned as he says he is, he could have done a little more than ‘urge’ the government – his recent bed-fellow. The very least the Opposition could do at the cold-blooded murder of a fellow parliamentarian, indeed a member of the Opposition, was to censure the Government and demand the resignation of those responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. Would they do it? Of course, they will not. “Urge’ is about as far as they will go.
The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka
are also greatly grieved at, and condemn, the callous
assassination of Nadarajah Raviraj, Member of Parliament for
Jaffna District, who was killed in Colombo along with his
bodyguard. It was only the day before that he had been in
the forefront of a protest demonstration in front of the
United Nations Office in Colombo about the humanitarian
crisis in the country. Next week he was scheduled to
participate in a public event organized by the National
Peace Council and other civic organizations that sought a
public dialogue on peace between political and religious
leaders. Raviraj was always prepared to engage with like
and unlike-minded persons inside and outside Parliament with
dignity and with great courage”
United States of America ‘deplores’ the murder
There was a refreshing departure from the pro-Government partisan stance the USA has adopted for years. A statement from the US embassy in Colombo:
“The United States deplores the assassination on November 10 of Mr Nadarajah Raviraj, member of the Sri Lankan Parliament. We express our deepest sympathy for this loss to the family of Mr.Raviraj, to his parliamentary colleagues and the people of Sri Lanka who have been unjustly robbed of his energy and talent.
It is critical that crimes such as the murder of Nadarajah Raviraj not go unpunished. We urge the government to begin an immediate investigation into the circumstances of his killing and to find, arrest and prosecute those responsible on the most urgent basis”
Neither “deploring” not “urging” are enough. Unless there are some real consequences, the GOSL will simply laugh, and then it will be ‘business as usual’.
Not the only outstanding Tamil to be assassinated
As I have said, Joseph Pararajasingham, MP for Batticaloa was gunned down by one of the paramilitary murderers who the Armed Forces use to do their dirty work. He was assassinated in a Church in Batticaloa on Christmas Day last year. I met his charming wife only two weeks ago, and she showed me the extensive injuries she had sustained when she was shot at the same time as her husband. She is very lucky to have survived.
Para’s murder was preceded by that of the murder, in Colombo, of another Tamil politician, the charismatic and outspoken Kumar Ponnambalam, who was the Leader of the Tamil Congress and a Presidential candidate.
Ex-Tamil MP, Chandra Nehru Ariyanayagam, left the planet the same way.
A dozen Tamil reporters, newsmen and others, have been ‘eliminated’. The best known, and perhaps the greatest loss to the Tamil people, was the murder in Colombo, of the brilliant far-sighted Taraki Sivaram who had an exceptional knowledge of the problems facing the Tamil people, the geo-politics and geo-strategies.
It is not a coincidence that all these people were all highly articulate, knowledgeable and able to forcefully present to the international community, the terrible suffering of the Tamil people. What we see is a deliberate well thought-out plan to prevent the outside world from appreciating the plight of the Tamil people.
Next in the line
The next to go, as sure as day follows night, will be Kumar Ponnambalam’s son, the outspoken and articulate lawyer, Gajan, a leading MP in the TNA. After Gajan, will go the lesser Tamil mortals. Once the articulate Tamils are ‘removed’, the Sinhalese regime will mop up the articulate Sinhalese, the likes of Kumar Rupesinghe. Then will follow Victor Ivan, the Editor of the challenging Sinhalese newspaper, Ravaya, followed by the lesser mortals among the Sinhalese.
What will be left are the Rajapakses (all three of them), the Weerawamsas in the so-called Marxist Party, the Buddhist Clergy. and other Sinhalese extremists. Sri Lanka will then truly be a Sinhala Buddhist Nation as envisaged in the 1972 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, later to be styled the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka!
The future of Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka.
The question that must arise is, “What is the future of the Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka?” They have one of two options – to join the Government and survive, or not to join the Government and be assassinated.
What about representing the Tamil people? Representing them where? It cannot be in the Sri Lankan Parliament because for decades, if not longer, it has been a Sinhala Parliament concerned about the Sinhalese people. One Sinhalese ‘leader’ (for want of a better word), President J.R.Jayawardene, in an interview given to Ian Ward of the London Daily Telegraph, on 11 July 1983, days before the attempted genocide of the Tamils in Colombo said,
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now….Now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or of their opinion about us”.
The quote usually ends here, but Jayawardene said something more,
“The more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhala people will be here…really, if I starve the Tamils out, (which his successor, Mahinda Rajapakse, from the other side of the Sinhala political divide is doing right now), the Sinhala people will be happy”.
The Tamils are mentioned in this Sinhala Parliament only when it is time to renew Emergency Regulations, not because there is an ‘Emergency’ but because these repressive Regulations, adopted from Apartheid South Africa, can be used, and are widely used, to intimidate, harass and murder Tamils, with no questions asked. As is the answer to all problems in Sri Lanka, these repressive Regulations are necessary. “because of the continuing problem with terrorism”. The real terrorism is that generated by these Regulations.
In an earlier version of this article, I suggested that the 22 Tamil MPs should review their position and consider quitting Parliament rather than provide a degree of legitimacy to an irresponsible, ruthless and barbaric regime that masquerades as a ‘Government’.
There are, however, problems with this. It is quite conceivable that the Government will simply appoint one of their Tamil stooges, even Karuna, who has been responsible for so many murders and recent abductions of Tamil businessmen in Colombo for ransom, and appoint them as MPs (with 3 votes from the ‘Tamil voters’). It has happened before.
If the Tamil MPs are to remain in Parliament, and survive, the responsibility will be with the International Community, to unleash the entire weight of public opinion on the GOSL There must be some real consequences for the GOSL. Unfortunately, despite the recent ‘condemnations’, by foreign governments, human rights groups and NGOs, I doubt if there will be the necessary sustained pressure on the GOSL or the ‘real consequences’ I have referred to. So, ‘the fate of Raviraj’ awaits many more.
Sri Lankans must have a sense of déjà vu, as the murderous regime of President Mahinda Rajapakse, complete with ‘white vans’ which pick up those destined for life outside this planet, appear. They must surely think that President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s regime, the most murderous regime that Sri Lanka has ever known, has been ‘reborn’ in true Sri Lankan Buddhist style.