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No justice for assassinated human rights lawyer Kumar Ponnambalam, 15 years on

Kumar Ponnamabalam, assassinated 5 Jan 2000.

Fifteen years after Kumar Ponnambalam, a prominent human rights lawyer and leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) was assassinated in a busy Colombo suburb during Chandrika Kumaratunge's government, his killers have not been brought to justice.

Mr Ponnambalam, who was renowned for his pro bono work in defending Tamil and Sinhala youths detained under Sri Lanka's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, 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. 

He was shot dead by unidentified gunman on January 5th, 2000, whilst in his car on Ramakrishna Lane, in the Tamil area of Colombo, Wellawatte.

The murder came a few days after he had written an open letter to then president Chandrika, condemning her anti-Tamil policies.

"I write as a Tamil Eelavan. But more importantly, I write as an unalloyed and unrepentant supporter of the political philosophy of the LTTE and as one who, with that conviction, lives in the South. I write as one who has publicly stated this position of mine not only within this island but also without, and both verbally and in writing. I write as one whom you have recognized in your speech. And, I write as one who refuses to be deterred by the naked threats that dot your speech."

"As far as the Tamils are concerned, they in turn, must appreciate that if their aspirations hold that as a Nation they have the right to self-determination and that that right is inalienable in that it is born with them, then they must have the political wisdom, strength and sagacity to exercise that right and decide their own political future themselves. They have, for far too long, looked to peace packages, negotiating tables and anything offered or dished out by the Sinhalese. This beggarly attitude must go. The sooner it goes, the better it is for the Tamils."

"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."

"May I end by saying that, on the basis of what I have just stated I, personally, have got disgusted and tired of talks, third party intervention, etc. My considered conviction is that a political solution to the Tamil Problem is in the hands of the Tamils themselves and only in their hands and that the Sinhalese and Tamils can continue to live in this island and in peace only if they live in two definite and distinct compartments each minding their own business unfettered by the other. Only such an arrangement will prove relevant that great quotation on peace you have used in your speech:

"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.

See full letter here.

The International Commission of Jurists promptly demanded a full independent investigation into the murder.

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

The Sunday Leader newspaper wrote at around the time of the first anniversary of his death:

"There is now clear evidence that Kumaratunga knew the identities of the murderers of Kumar Ponnambalam and Rohana Kumara [an editor of a Sinhala paper] at least shortly after the murders were committed, if not before. She failed to order an inquiry. She failed to disclose the information in her possession to the proper authorities. Worst of all, she failed at least to distance herself from the murderers, whom she continued to entertain at President's House. And more startling evidence is still to follow."

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

In a statement, the LTTE said:

"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."

See related article: Tamils mourn Ponnambalam's death by TamilNet.

Fifteen years on there has been no such credible investigation and his killers are yet to face justice.

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