Mourning a Man of Peace: Remembering Neelan Tiruchelvam
Neelan Tiruchelvam was a Harvard-educated lawyer and mediator who played a crucial role in bridging the differences between Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community, to which he belonged, and the majority Sinhalese rulers. He often met with leaders of both communities at a small restaurant in Colombo, where he helped draft several peace plans to end a civil war that had claimed over 50,000 lives in the last decade. Despite understanding the reasons behind ethnic communities taking up arms, Tiruchelvam believed that policymakers had to pay close attention to sustainable development and transparency in Sri Lanka and other poor countries. He felt strongly that the country’s Tamils needed to feel part of the cultural ethos and wanted donor countries to adjust “the levers of aid” to influence policies that supported human rights. Tiruchelvam was assassinated by a suicide bomber, allegedly from a Tamil terrorist group, at the age of 55, which scuttled a peace plan that was expected to be unveiled soon by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He was mourned by scores of friends in his own country and all over the world, where his lectures on ethnicity and economic development often attracted standing-room-only audiences.