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About Neelan Tiruchelvam

Neelan Tiruchelvam (sometimes misspelt Thiruchelvam) was a Sri Lankan Tamil politician and an internationally respected academic. He was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber on 29th July 1999, at the age of 55.nNeelan Tiruchelvam was a Harvard Law Professor, President’s Counsel and a Member of Parliament. He held a doctorate (SJD) from Harvard Law School and was also a research fellow at Yale Law School.nHe was the son of Senator M Tiruchelvam, QC, who was a former Solicitor-General and Cabinet Minister in Ceylon (later named Sri Lanka).nNeelan Tiruchelvam was a scholar, an international activist and a legislator, as well as a practicing lawyer, social scientist and politician. Dr. Tiruchelvam was assassinated on July 29th, 1999. Before his assassination, he had worked with his childhood friend, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prof. G.L. Peiris on a devolution package which he hoped would address the historical demands of the Tamils. 

As a peacemaker, he worked to resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka through non-violent political means, including consensus building, negotiation and constitutional reform. Dr. Tiruchelvam was the founder and Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies and the founder and Director of the Law and Society Trust: two of Sri Lanka’s leading research and policy organisations. In his career as a public intellectual, Dr. Tiruchelvam built bridges and sought common ground in a deeply divided society through scholarship, activism and politics. His thoughts and actions were animated by a personal philosophy of humanism, peace and non-violence. Firmly committed to change and reform for resolving deep-rooted problems of the Sri Lankan society, he sought to spearhead transformation through dialogue, tolerance and deliberation. Tiruchelvam was a member of the Tamil United Liberation Front which advocated a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He was a regular critic of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for their repeated violations of human rights and reluctance to enter into serious negotiations. Because of this, the LTTE are believed to have been behind his assassination. International condemnation of the assassination and praise for the work that Neelan had done were swift, with prominent persons like U.S. President Bill Clinton expressing his sorrow at the tragic death. The Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, which celebrates his life and work, has held a series of memorial lectures in his honor since 2000. The lectures have been delivered by scholars, writers and leaders such as Michael Ignatieff, Amitav Ghosh, IK Gujral, Claire Short, Asma Jehangir and Gareth Evans.