The murder of Parliamentarian Raviraj
Brian Senewiratne M.D
Physician, Brisbane , Australia
On 10 November 2006, yet another leading Tamil Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament was gunned down in Colombo by a supposedly `unknown` gunman. This is a new Sri Lankan term which is synonymous with `The Armed Forces and their Paramilitaries who do their dirty work`. There are no `unknown gunmen` as such.
Nadarajah Raviraj (44), Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian for Jaffna district, one of only a few Tamil MPs who could voice, in English, the suffering of the Tamil people in the North and East, was assassinated in broad daylight in the heart of Colombo, in full view of scores of people.
Even at the cost of making this article too long, it is crucial to detail the record of the man, since it is these educated, articulate, outspoken, Tamils, future leaders of the Tamil people, who are being specifically targetted by the murderous Sinhalese regime in Colombo. Raviraj is not the first, nor will he be the last, unless the full weight of international public opinion is brought to bear on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL).
Raviraj, born in 1962 in Jaffna (Chavakachcheri), was educated in one of the famous mission schools in Jaffna, St. John`s College. Embarking on a legal career, he became an Attorney at Law in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 1987. He practiced in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court, both in the Tamil Northeast and the Sinhalese South. His law firm, Raviraj & Associates, specialised in dealing with cases involving the most repressive and notorious legislations in Sri Lanka - the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and Emergency Regulations.
He also worked for some 10 years as a human rights lawyer in Colombo`s ?Home for Human Rights?, which I have strongly supported.
Ravitaj joined the then main Tamil political party, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), in 1987. His ability was such that he rapidly rose in the Party, appointed to the Central Committee in 1990, legal advisor in 1998, the political bureau in 2000, and the following year becoming the Party`s Administrative Secretary.
In 2001 he became the Mayor of Jaffna. In the 2001 General Elections, he was elected to Parliament as the MP for Jaffna District, and re-elected in 2004.
There is not the slightest doubt that Raviraj was leadership material. He had a major role to play in Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. Therein lay his problem and the imperative `need` for the GOSL and the Armed Forces to `take him out`.
He had a major interest in conflict resolution (a crying need in that war-ravaged country) and participated in workshops hosted by the Institute of Federation in Switzerland, the Conrad Adenauer Foundation in Germany and the Peace Institute in Austria, among many others.
With a marked deterioration in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka in 2006, Raviraj worked with Sinhalese and Tamils in the Civil Monitoring Committee, monitoring extrajudicial killings, abductions and disappearances, `activities` which have been extensively documented by Amnesty International and every international human rights group in the world.
My meeting with him
I met Raviraj some years ago when he was visiting Melbourne, Australia. He and I addressed a public meeting in Melbourne on the situation in Sri Lanka. After my address, I noticed that he was one of the first in the audience to rise to his feet and applaud.
At the end of the meeting, he told me that he had never heard a Sinhalese speak the way I did, adding, ?What makes you do it?? Before I could reply, someone whispered, ?He is Edmund Samarakkody`s nephew?. (He was my mother`s brother, a lawyer like Raviraj and one of his `heroes`, and was one of a very few Sinhalese who had campaigned for Tamil rights over some four decades). The enlightened Raviraj smiled, and said, ?That explains it. It must be genetic?!
We spent the rest of the evening discussing the struggle of the Tamil people for justice, and the developing chaos in the Sinhalese South. We have been friends ever since. He has often telephoned me from Sri Lanka to ask when I would come and visit him there.
The background to the murder
Since early 2006, the Armed Forces of the GOSL have been targeting the Tamil areas ? Trincomalee in the East, Mannar in the North West, and parts of the Jaffna Peninsula. The Indiscriminate bombing and shelling of these areas have caused a major humanitarian disaster, with civilians fleeing the conflict zone, adding to the monumental refugee problem caused by the December 2004 Tsunami which caused such serious damage in the Northeast and East. The numbers involved were massive - some 200,000 refugees (?Internally Displaced People? ? IDPs), mainly Tamil civilians and a lesser number of Muslims.
The movement of these people and their numbers are on the UNHCR website (1). As can be seen, the number of IDPs in the Batticaloa District alone, as of 31 October 2006, was 55,126.
At the northern part of the Batticaloa district is a village, Vaharai, north of which is a densely populated coastal hamlet, Kathiraveli, where several thousand IDPs sought shelter. On 8 November 2006, the GOSL decided to bomb a school in Kathiraveli where the refugees were accommodated. Some 65 civilians were killed and more than 125 injured. With limited medical facilities, more are likely to die of their injuries.
UN Ambassador prevented from visiting the scene
In what can be only described as unbelievable highhandedness, Ambassador Allan Rock was prevented by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces from visiting the site of the bombing.
Ambassador Rock is Special Advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for children in armed conflict. He is currently visiting the island to study the situation first hand and report to the Special Representative. On his schedule, drawn well ahead of the bombing by the GOSL, was a visit to Vaharai.
After being kept waiting for several hours, when the Ambassador was finally allowed to proceed, he had less than half an hour to discuss what had happened with the affected people.
There has been widespread international condemnation of this outrageous bombing of refugees by the GOSL and its military. Important though this is, it is not enough to prevent more atrocities.
Amnesty International (AI)
AI, released an immediate Report on 8 November 2006 (ASA 37/032/2006)
`?Amnesty International is appalled that the military should attack a camp for displaced people - these were civilians who had already been forced from their homes because of the conflict. Amnesty International condemns all attacks on civilians and is particularly saddened and shocked to see such a large-scale attack on civilians` just days after the government`s announcement of its Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses?..
The Nordic Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission statement:
Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission:-
`Our monitors saw there were no military installations in the camp area, so we would certainly like some answers from the military regarding the nature and reasons of this attack,`
The International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in a press release the day after the bombing, deplored the tragic loss of life and injury to civilians resulting from the Wednesday shelling of the densely populated area of Kathiraveli, a coastal hamlet north of Vaharai, where several thousand internally displaced people had sought shelter.
The Sri Lankan Government response
The response of the GOSL is so absurd as to be hardly worth recording.
?While we regret this whole episode, we also say that national security is utmost and it has to be maintained, and as such defensive action by the authorities is something that is inevitable,` said Keheliya Rambukwella, Defence spokesman and a Minister in the Rajapakse Government, whose `explanations` of this (and other recent atrocities, in particular the recent GOSL bombing of an orphanage in the Tamil area has been beyond comprehension). They are not `explanations` but downright lies ? in ordinary English. They are lies that have been exposed by international observers who visited the orphanage soon after the bombing.
Tamil parliamentarians protest
On 9 November 2006, some 15 MPs, Raviraj included, from the main Tamil political party, the Tamil national Alliance (TNA) protested opposite the United Nations Colombo office, calling for the UN to pressure the GOSL to prevent such attacks. A memorandum signed by the MPs was submitted to the Secretary General UN and to the head of the UN children`s Fund through the Colombo UN office.
Raviraj is 2nd from the left carrying the banner ?UNHCR, UNICEF why are you SILENT??
The assassination of Raviraj
The following morning (10.11.06) Raviraj had returned to the residence of MPs at Manning Town, Narahenpitiya in Colombo, after an early TV interview . He was driving to his office with his body-guard sitting next to him.
A motorcycle with a pillion rider approached his official land cruiser. The pillion-rider carrying a bag, got off the cycle, walked across the road and emptied the entire magazine of the automatic rifle which was in the bag. He dropped the bag with the gun (a T-56), got back on the cycle and sped off. All this was in full view of dozens of people.
Raviraj was critically injured and died shortly after (9.20 am) in Colombo`s National Hospital. His bodyguard was dead on arrival at the hospital.
The `efficiency` of the Sri Lankan media.
As anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Sri Lanka knows, things do n...