by K. Sivapalan, ‘Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka,’ France, April 20, 2013
Rev.Fr. Mariampillai Xavier Karunaratnam (1951-2008), or ‘Kili’ Father as he was known affectionately was assassinated on 20th April, 2008 by a deep penetration unit of the Sri Lanka Army. We lost two other members of NESOHR previously.Chandra Nehru Ariyanayagam was killed in cold blood by the Sri Lanka Army and Joseph Pararajasingham was brutally murdered by the para military working with the Sri Lankan Army while he was attending the holy mass inside the Church in his hometown Batticaloa.
I came to know Kili (Parrot) Father some time after the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) was signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) brokered by the Norwegians although I have heard about him before. When we met for the first time I understood that he has read about my working in the field of Legal Aid and my appearances in courts on behalf of innocent Tamil youths indicted under the two draconian laws, The Emergency Regulations (EMR) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The laws reflected the magnitude of the state terror thrust upon Tamils concealed as the ‘law of the land’.
Father Kili was very concerned with the fate of the youth from the Northeast who were arrested under EMR and PTA without having committed any offence and detained for years without being released or indicted in Courts if there were in fact any evidence against them. He was also very worried about the ongoing violations of human rights perpetrated by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.
It was an opportune time as there was a breathing space due to the No war- no peace (if not peace) period that was there at least at the beginning of year 2002(CFA was signed on February 22,2002).That made Father to venture with the idea of forming Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR). He wanted people like me to join him in this venture. Many of us on our own way were involved in the field of human rights in Trincomalee, Batticaloa,Jaffna and Vanni. Father was however very keen to adhere to the ‘Paris Principles’ in the composition of its Committee members. He has thought about members from various fields and from different regions and gender balance (our Secretary was Dr. Malathy and we had another lady member from the higher Educational field) within the traditional Tamil homeland at a time when even the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission had no such realization.
As the Chairperson of NESOHR Father was very keen that we should have an all inclusive, exhaustive Charter and we did achieve that. Even Ian Martin, the former Secretary General of Amnesty International and later the UN Secretary Kofi Annan’s Permanent Representative in Nepal and Rory Mungoven, Chief of Asia Pacific region at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (who was the UN team’s country Representative in Colombo at that time) were consulted and were highly appreciative of the effort.
Within a short period of existence we produced many Reports by actually interviewing and collecting affidavits from the affected or their next of kin. We produced the Mandaithivu-Allaipiddy-Mankumpam (MAM) Report on the 69 persons who went missing from Philip Neri Church due to the Sri Lanka Armed Forces and paramilitary group working with them and another Report on the Paramanthanaru Massacre where 16 persons were killed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in Vanni. We were able to bring out the Book ‘Massacres of Tamils 1956-2008’ in Tamil, English and German languages with the assistance of the Statistical Centre for the Northeast(SNE). A Booklet on the massacres of Tamils in the name of peace by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKP) was published by the Delhi Tamil Students Union with our text. Apart from these Reports and books we brought out monthly reports from Kilinochchi on the ground situation in Vanni up to January,2009 when our office was destroyed and our operatives could no longer work on facts gathering on the ground. All this would not have been possible without the guidance of Kili father.
Assistance to poor, oppressed and affected people whether through forcible uprooting by the Armed Forces of the GOSL, war or Tsunami was always at the heart of Father. He was the Chairperson of the Consortium of Vanni NGOs prior to becoming the Chairperson of NESOHR. He was instrumental in organizing in Vanni Psychological assistance to war and Tsunami affected people. Through his efforts we were able to take the problems of people in Vanni including Human Rights violations if any and child recruitment to their Forces by the LTTE. Whenever they were found to be under age they were released in the presence of UNICEF and NESOHR officials to their parents. Father was also instrumental in getting Ltte to sign the Agreement against child recruitment. Father lead a NESOHR delegation to Geneva at the invitation of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was adamant that I attend the Advanced Course in International Human Rights Law and advocacy conducted by ISHR in Geneva.
All the visitors and officers, whether they were Ambassadors or from UN Agencies or from INGOs or from NGOs in the South were always welcome to NESOHR’s Office. Father always invited our Sinhala friends from South to participate in our Human Rights Day functions and delegations from Buddhist Priests and Civil Societies in the south were always welcome. It is sad that many of these officials were quiet when people in Vanni – almost 400,000 – towards the end of the war were being attacked for months by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces especially by the Air Force. International Human Rights NGOs and UN Agencies who were so vociferous about child recruitment by the LTTE turned a blind eye when the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were bombing and killing pregnant women and babies in their arms. U.N.Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict and UNICEF went dumb.
An aspect of his life which was not known to many was his love for the environment. His church in the remote village of Vavunikkulam off Mankulam was like an Oasis. All green and cool. You could find all the plants, herbal or otherwise. Even the landscape was designed by him. When you enter its precincts you could feel the temperature falling by many degrees. It was a pity that I could not spend even few days there although he has invited me many times to do so. Father also served as the correspondent of Veritas radio service for some time in Vanni.
Father was born in the village of Karaveddy in Jaffna, was a teacher and a Bank official before being ordained as a priest. Like many other priests before him who were killed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces he gave his life in the service of mankind. I am proud to have served as his Deputy in NESOHR.
“Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from the conviction that the other person has something good to say”-Pope Francis
K.Sivapalan is a prominent Human Rights lawyer and the Deputy Chairperson of Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR).