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Human rights lawyer Kumar Ponnanmbalam commemorated 21 years on

Commemorating the life of Maamanithar Kumar Ponnanmbalam, a prominent Tamil human rights lawyer and leader of the All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the Tamil National People’s Front held a memorial at Kalladi, Batticaloa.

Kumar Ponnanmbalam was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on 5th January 2000 whilst in his car on Ramakrishna Lane, in the Tamil area of Colombo, Wellawatte. His murder came only a few days after he had written an open letter to then-President Chandrika, condemning her anti-Tamil policies.

In his letter he wrote:

"The Tamil Nation has, through the Delegation of the Tamil People, solemnly informed the world about its aspirations in August 1985 at Thimpu. To go back on that position will be tantamount to compromising future generations of Tamils yet unborn. The present generation does not have the right to compromise future generations. Any signal that would give the Sinhalese the idea that the Tamils are not serious about their aspirations, or that they are climbing down, will be an act of treachery."

Many, including his wife, accused the Chandrika government of orchestrating the murder, which came a few days after a suspected LTTE suicide bomb targeted her at an election rally on December 18th, 1999. Chandrika survived the attack but lost sight in one eye.

Following his death, the International Commission of Jurists promptly demanded a full independent investigation into the murder, but the culprits were never brought to justice.

Following his death, the LTTE conferred upon him the prestigious title of "Maamanithar".

In response to his death they stated:

"The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) wishes to express its deep shock and profound grief over the brutal killing of Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam, a courageous Tamil leader who fearlessly exposed the hypocrisy of the Sinhala state and audaciously championed the cause of the Tamil nation.

We accuse the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil quisling groups of masterminding and executing this heinous crime to silence a brave, daring voice of reason that defended the rights of the Tamils. Mr. Ponnambalam's sudden death is a great and irreparable loss to the Tamils, a monumental tragedy that has befallen the Tamil nation at a critical historical time.

Faced with constant threat to his life and property, Mr. Ponnambalam lived in the heart of the Sri Lankan capital and boldly challenged his racist adversaries. His speeches and writings, which touched on extremely controversial issues, expressed his truthfulness, genuiness, uprightness and indomitable spirit for justice. He pleaded for the rights and liberties of thousands of innocent Tamils in Colombo who were subjected to constant persecution at the hands of the tyrannical Sinhala state. He also voiced for the Tamils rights at international forums.

Mr. Ponnambalam was the only Tamil leader who openly and fearlessly supported the armed freedom struggle of the Liberation Tigers. He endorsed the policy of the LTTE as the authentic political project based on the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. By his gallant and heroic life in advancing the legitimate cause of the Tamils amidst all dangers, Mr. Ponnambalam has earned the respect and admiration of his people as a true Tamil patriot."

Ponnambalam was renowned for his pro bono work in defending Tamil and Sinhala youths detained under Sri Lanka's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. He had filed reports in important human rights cases that incriminated the Chandrika government, including the gang rape and murder of the Tamil girl, Krishanthi Kumaraswamy and mass graves in Chemmani. 

In his letter he further noted:

"Peace is a battle. Peace is never given freely, never acquired. Its conquest is the result of courage and of respect for others. It demands awareness and commitment from everyone. Peace is not the law imposed by the mighty, but that which is founded on equality and dignity of all peoples."

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