In Retrospect: Death of a human rights defender

At around 2.30 am on the 25th of December 2005 , I received a text message from a friend of mine who worked for an international news agency. Since the beginning of “another phase” of extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances during Eelam War - IV, we, a substantial number of journalists and human rights activists had a network to share breaking news and info about political and military developments, particularly with a focus on human rights before the news or information was even published in any media.

Considering the time that I received the message, even before I opened it, I realized that it would be very disturbing. My discernment did not go wrong.

If I remember correctly, the SMS said, “TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham was shot and killed and his wife was wounded inside the Church during Christmas Eve prayers in Batticaloa”. At the beginning I could not believe it, later I reconfirmed that Mr.Pararajasingham was shot inside the Cathedral in Batticaloa town that was crowded with people attending the Christmas mass presided by the Bishop of Batticaloa. I was deeply shocked. It was worrisome news not only to the Tamil nation, but to all those fighting to protect and promote human rights.

Today [25 December 2012], with utmost respect, we commemorate the Seventh year remembrance of Mr. Pararajasingham, while perpetrators of this cold blooded crime are continuing to enjoy life within the culture of impunity that exists in Sri Lanka with the blessings of a reign of terror.

Final farewell

The last time I met Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham was a few months before he was assassinated. Our meeting took place at his official residence in Keppetipola Mawatha, Colombo 05. It was scheduled for an hour, though without the realization that it would be our last meeting, the conversation continued for nearly two hours. He stayed in Colombo due to immediate life threats that he faced as he highlighted the human rights situation of the Tamil people and challenged a paramilitary group.

The prime topic of our conversation was about human rights. He was deeply disturbed and worried about the deteriorating human rights situation in the East and generally concerned about the unhealthier political developments throughout the island. ”While being a parliamentarian, I became a prisoner, too. I wanted to be with my people. They are suffering a lot. Even, though we cannot prevent the suffering of our people, at-least we should draw the attention of the world to the ongoing human rights violations. That might diminish their suffering,” the slain MP told me during the conversation.

He further said, “I am happy to know that you are working as a journalist while being involved in the human rights field. At this stage, our community needs to invest a great deal in these fields, but unfortunately parents are scared to send their sons and daughters to these fields as it is risky, that is also understandable”. Just before we said goodbye to each other, he wished and encouraged me and told me to take care.

A fighting legacy

I was really motivated by our conversation and decided to engage with him proactively depending on both our conveniences as he also expressed his interest to meet me in the future, but we both never thought that would be our last goodbye. His passion for protection and promotion of human rights and the Tamil cause is indeed inspirational. After his death, the human rights situation of the Tamil people worsened further, but still he serves as an inspiration, when we fight for rights and justice.

In his parliamentarian life, Mr.Pararajasingam, documented human rights violations in eastern Sri Lanka during the 1990’s and brought it to the attention of the international community. He persistently challenged the Sri Lankan government on its human rights record. The Sri Lankan parliament records, the “Hansard”, will contain ample evidence of his brave challenges to the Sri Lankan state on its human rights record. He traveled the world as a member of parliament, representing the Tamils, to meet foreign ministers and foreign affairs officials and brought the human rights situation in Northeast to their attention. In his last visit to North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR) in Kilinochchi to mark the International Human Rights day on December 10th 2005, he told us that he has decided to station himself in Batticaloa from now on and take up the human rights issues in his district. He told us that he was ready to take any risks that this would entail. 

The death of Mr. Pararajasingam was irreparable to the Tamil cause, which has faced decades of oppression and discrimination. Since the brutal murder of Mr. Pararajasingam, there is a huge vacuum to replace his contribution. At the same time, human rights violations have peaked higher than ever in the history of Tamil struggle.

Facing the challenge

The present Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has to play a crucial role to address the mass atrocities, including genocide that continues against the Tamil nation in different forms.  But, the TNA has failed to take adequate actions to address the mass atrocities that continue against Tamils, in an appropriate manner.

Therefore, it is a vital responsibility and moral obligation of the Tamil nation to either, strengthen and coordinate the work of existing human rights organizations that work genuinely or, to form a creative and constructive foundation that can stop the ongoing genocide against Tamil nation.

A formation as an innovative initiative is not only capable of stopping the ongoing genocide and seek justice that has been denied for decades to the Tamil nation, but also be a fitting means to pay respect to human rights defenders in a meaningful manner, who sacrificed their life for the rights of the Tamil people.  



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.