Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Printer-Friendly Version

The Pararajasingham Murder

The Fall-Out

by Brian Senewiratne, MA, MD, Brisbane, Australia, December 31, 2005

Joseph Pararajasingham, MP for Batticaloa, a senior Tamil politician and a peace activist, was gunned down on Christmas morning 2005 in a Cathedral in the heart of Batticaloa where he was attending the midnight mass. What was terminated was not just a most valuable life, but probably also the Peace process.

With a killing-a-day for the past several months in the new killing fields of Sri Lanka, the Eastern seaboard, what is so special about this particular killing? The significance is that Mr Pararajasingham was a man of national and international standing. His murder must have a national and international dimension. Before these are discussed, I will briefly comment on the man - a tribute if you like.

The man

Joseph Pararajasingham entered Parliament in 1990 and was re-elected in 1994 with the highest number of preferential votes ever received by a Tamil candidate in the NorthEast. He was elected again in 2000. He lost his seat in 2002, but was nominated to Parliament under the ‘National list’. He was a member of the (Tamil) Federal Party (Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi) shortly after its formation. He was a founder member of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and its Senior Vice President.  He was a leading member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), currently the major political party representing the Tamils.

He was a founder-member of the North East Human Rights Secretariat, an executive member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Parliamentary Association of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Corporation).

He was one of the few current Tamil politicians who had an excellent command of English and the ability to use this to present the problems faced by the Tamil people to the international community.

He was totally committed to the Peace process and absolutely convinced that the ethnic problems in Sri Lanka could only be settled by negotiations. He had the complete backing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – the Tamil Tigers), which makes nonsense of the sly attempts by the Sri Lankan Government to attribute his murder to the Tigers.

My impressions

‘Para’, as he was to me, met me and even stayed with me with his charming wife Sugunam, when they visited Brisbane. I can summarise Para in one sentence “He was a fine, upright, sincere, and peaceful man”.

We have had many a discussion on the future of Sri Lanka. I, a Sinhalese, was adamant that negotiations with a racist, brutal and totally unreliable Sri Lankan Government (of whatever political persuasion) would not get the Tamils anywhere. Para, a Tamil, was equally adamant that a negotiated settlement was the only way forward. Although I could see where he was coming from, I totally disagreed with him and still do – even more so now.

At our last meeting in May 2005 we discussed his possible assassination. I was obviously concerned about his security (or the lack of it). He was worryingly realistic: “Brian, they can take me out whenever and where ever they choose to. A Security guard or many Guards, will make no difference”.

Tragically he was right. ‘They’ not only took him out, but very nearly his wife too and some eight others including children. He made no secret of who “they” were - (Tamil) paramilitary operatives recruited by the Sri Lankan Army ‘to do their dirty work’. The Sri Lankan Army and these Tamil opportunistic traitors are two sides of the same coin – one in uniform, the other not. Para’s assassination is the visible evidence of an invisible association between the two. Despite vehement denials, these Tamil mercenaries are armed, supported, protected and used by the Sri Lankan Army.

The murder

Two allegedly ‘unidentified’ gunman opened fire in the Cathedral when Para, his wife and others, were about the receive Holy Communion from Bishop Kingsley Swarmpillai, Bishop of Batticaloa and Trincomalee. St Mary’s co-Cathedral is in the middle of Batticaloa town in an area directly under the control of the Armed Forces. To claim that the Army knew nothing about this is arrant nonsense.

The trail of blood from Pararajasingham leads to the Army, possibly to the Sri Lankan Government. It is similar to the murder of another vocal Tamil leader, lawyer Kumar Ponnambalam, assassinated in Colombo some five years ago, where the trail of blood led to the Presidential Security Division (notorious gangsters armed by President Chandrika Kumaratunge) and beyond.

There is, however, a difference between the two murders. While that of Ponnambalam (2000) was ‘discreet’ – the body with bullet wounds found in a car, that of Pararajasingham (2005) was brazen - in front of hundreds of people in the Cathedral and right in front of the Bishop of Batticoloa. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have not just killed someone (or had him killed) but sent a message. “We will kill whom we want, when we want, where we choose. Come watch us – if you like”. It is the brazenness that comes from an absolute certainty that no action will be taken by the powers that be. The implications are obvious.

Why was he killed?

Para was fluent and articulate, he was outspoken and obviously credible. He could present, to the Sinhala Parliament and to international audiences, the suffering and problems faced by the Tamil people and the outrageous violation of human rights that they have had to endure. The Sri Lankan Government and its Armed Forces simply had no answer other than assassination. The clear message seems to be “Articulate the suffering of the Tamil people, the outrages that are occurring, and you will be taken out. The more forthright you are, the sooner you will go.”

The national and international response

A senior Tamil politician, a member of Parliament with a national and international standing who is totally committed to the Peace process has been murdered by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and/or their agents. He had the complete backing of the Tamil Tigers and was clearly an important conduit between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers in any peace negotiations. His murder must put the Peace process in jeopardy. There must be a national and international response to this outrage.

1. The national response

I do not know what the response, if any, of the Sinhala nation will be. Nor do I think that the  Government-controlled media in Sri Lanka will convey the gravity of the situation to the Sinhala people.         

Where the Tamil people are concerned, there must be some decisive action taken. The Tamils are losing those who can effectively present their problems- nationally and internationally. People who could be their future leaders are being gradually taken out.

The Tamils have some serious decisions that they will have to make.

  • To decide that a complete separation from the Sinhala State is the only answer. As a Sinhalese who has watched with disbelief the discrimination, overt and covert, of the Tamil people, the destruction of their lives and property by the Sinhala Government, and the gross violation of their human rights by the Sinhala Armed Forces under Government direction, I have never been convinced that any solution short of complete separation of the Sinhala and Tamil nations would be an answer. The situation has gone well beyond that which can be addressed by a Federal, or even Con-federal, set-up.
  • To realize that a separate Tamil state is not something that can be negotiated with a Sinhala Government that has declared that the country is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation and has even enshrined this in the Constitution. If this means a return to war, it is of the Sinahala government’s making. The international community will have to recognise this.
  • An alternative to war is to bring the Government to a halt. Tamil Government servants stopping work might have been effective years ago. Today, it will be totally ineffective. The degree of “Sinhalisation” (discrimination) that has occurred in the past two decades is such that it will be an exercise in futility. Let me cite some figures. The Sri Lankan Administration service has been the forte of the Tamils. Yet, in the examination in July 1999 to enter the Administrative services, 151 Sinhalese and just 2 Tamils were summoned for interview. Of them, not a single Tamil (or Muslim) was selected. In the Sri Lankan Accountancy examination (another forte of the Tamils) in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998 only one single Tamil was selected in each of these years. If Tamil public servants stop work, they will simply be sacked and replaced by Sinhalese.

The only industry where a stop-work will have an effect is in the tea plantations. If the Plantation  workers (mainly Tamils) stop work, the Sri Lankan government, already near bankruptcy, will come down to reality overnight. The recent collaboration between the leaders of the Plantation workers with the Tamil party and the militants is a step in the right direction. However, there is the very real possibility of the former being bought over by the Sinhala government, as has happened so often in the past. Plantation workers who, for years, have been looked down on by the rest of the Tamil community are unlikely to bail them out unless there is a good reason for them to do so. It is up to the Tamil leadership to come up with an offer that will improve the lot of these seriously neglected people. It might be a better alternative to an all out war with the Sinhala government.

  • The pretence of Peace Talks will have to be abandoned. It must be recognised that the current Sri Lankan Government offer of Peace Talks is a time-buying exercise to enable the Sri Lankan Army to be “beefed up”. The recent escalation in the Defence allocation in President Rajapakse’s Budget 2006 can have no other interpretation. The Defence allocation has gone from Rs 52 billion in 2004, to Rs 56.6 billion in 2005 and an astronomical increase to Rs 91.6 billion in 2006. Rajapakse’s budget has been called a “People’s Budget” and a “Pro-poor Budget”. A more appropriate label is a “pro-war Budget”. Indeed President, Rajapakse has openly said that his ‘negotiations’ with the Tamil Tigers is only till he has been able to arm the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.
  • Tamil parliamentarians will have to reconsider their positions in what is essentially a Sinhala Parliament, which discusses problems faced only by the Sinhala people, not the Tamils. For Tamil politicians to continue to sit in Parliament is meaningless. Refusing to attend Parliament will send a strong message internationally that Sri Lanka needs a forum where the problems of the Tamil people are discussed and addressed.

2. The international response

  • There must be an international recognition of the realities in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Government might not have won the military battles with the Tamil Tigers, but has certainly won the propaganda war. This is a reflection of the failure of the powerful expatriate Tamil lobby. I have no illusions about the difficulty of getting the ‘international ear’. However, this is crucial if the Tamils are to achieve anything. Preaching to the converted which many, me included, do, may be emotionally satisfying but of limited, if any, value. So also the spate of publications, to which I have contributed in no small way. Emotionally satisfying but no more.
  • It is probable that an international action group, preferably of non-Sri Lankans, and certainly non-Tamils, will have to be set up. Our role would be to supply this group with the necessary facts (which are readily available), to legitimize the already established de facto Tamil State. The crucial aid donors will have to be specifically targeted.

The absurd current financial situation in Sri Lanka will have to be pointed out to the international community. For the coming year (2006), the estimated Government revenue is Rs 484 billion, and Government spending Rs 731 billion.. The Budget deficit is estimated at Rs. 197 billion, an increase from Rs.168 billion in 2005. Most of this deficit will be financed from foreign aid and grants. At least a quarter of the increasing budget deficit is because of an escalating expenditure on defence i.e to ‘defend’ the country from its own people. In effect, international donors are assisting the Sri Lankan Government to destroy it own people.  

  • Following the assassination of Mr Pararajasingham, an impressive number of Tamil organizations in the USA have called for sanctions against the Sri Lankan government. Impressive though it is, a follow-up is essential. The Australian Federation of Tamil Associations has protested to the Australian government. It is unlikely that a government that accepted as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia, a Sri Lankan Army General accused of serious human rights abuse of the Tamil people, will spring to attention because of a letter of protest. 

The EU countries will have to be approached. I have recently dealt with the credibility (or lack of it) of some EU decisions taken against the Tamils. Copies of this should be sent to every EU member, followed by lobbying.

The Sri Lankan government relies on commercial organizations to do its anti-Tamil propaganda. I have, for many years, suggested that the Tamils go down this same path and get professional help in their lobbying efforts. It will be more effective than shoulder to air missiles, and perhaps less costly.

  • One of the most serious failings of the powerful expatriate Tamil community is to formulate an effective action plan to get international support in the entirely justifiable struggle of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka to free themselves from a brutal, irresponsible and discriminatory regime in Colombo. If the murder of Pararajasingham galvanizes the expatriate Tamils into action, he would not have died in vain.