The Sri Lankan Supreme Court last Friday paid tribute to the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, PC in January 2000.
The Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva said on the occasion:
‟Dr. Tiruchelvam was indeed a man of many parts, who excelled in several spheres of activity. He was firstly a legal luminary who gained national and international recognition, of a high order, as a scholar, teacher of law, writer, orator and counsel. He graduated law from the University of Ceylon in 1966 and received international recognition of his excellence on being awarded a Fullbright Scholarship in the years 1969-71, which took him to the famous Harvard Law School of the United States of America where he obtained an LL.M in 1970 and SJD in 1973.”
Whilst being in the United States, he took to teaching of law. He was made a Fellow in Law and Modernisation at the Yale Law School.
He was associated with the Human Rights Program at Harvard as its first Edward Smith Visiting Fellow in 1986-87, and later as Visiting Lecturer in Law at the Harvard Law School in 198788.
He was a prolific writer who delved into many aspects of sociolegal thinking having a current significance. He authored the “Ideology of Popular Justice” – A Socio-Legal Inquiry (1982); coedited “Ethical Dilemma of Development in Asia”
(1982); co-edited the “Judiciary in Plural Societies” (1987); coauthored “Hungary in Transition – From Socialism to Capitalism” (1991); and “Democracy and Human Rights” (1996). He recently published “Human Rights, Democracy and
Civil Society” (1996), “Civil Disobedience” 1997 being two social science monographs in Tamil and “Politics and Culture” (1998), a social science monograph in Sinhala.
As a much sought after speaker, he was called upon to make, over the years, several memorial orations.
His lectures demonstrated the depth of his learning and above all the sincerity of his thought processes. Many are the subjects on which he addressed local and international audiences.
It would suffice if I advert to the last oration made by him. On the 27th of July 1999, just two days prior to his tragic death. On that day he made the Navar-atnaraja Memorial Lecture on the subject of “Constitutional Reform and Diversity.
He displayed his profound knowledge and the comprehensive grasp of the modalities of constitutional reform resorted, to address diverse interests.
I count it a privilege to have been present at that address and many of us gathered round him after the unusual by long lecture to congratulate him on his masterly analysis of the subject, done in a historical perspective. Neelan, probably intuitively sensed the tragedy to follow and gave of his best to the subject closer to his heart.
He was firmly and irretrievably committed to a peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict that has plagued our country for a long time, through a process of constitutional, legal and administrative reform that effectively accommodated the aspirations concerns and sensitivities of all groups.
So I recall, he attended almost everyone of the over sixty meetings of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Reform held in the years 1996 and 1997, making incisive submissions in order to produce a constitutional instrument of clarity and lasting content but at the same time displaying sufficient resilience as the voice of moderation accommodation and compromise.
These are essential qualities to bring about sanity in a scene where the jagged edges of an extended conflict cast their deadly shadow on our social life. In this context I think that the country and its people be-it Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or others have lost Neelan at a time we needed him most.
The late Dr. Tiruchelvam did not devote much of his time to appear in Court as Counsel. It was certainly not due to a lack of opportunity, knowledge skill or ability. He had these attributes in abundant measure. I think he took a conscious decision not to dedicate himself fully to a career as Counsel in order to devote his time, and energy to several other areas of socio-legal and political significance vital to peace, order and well being of our Society.
Nevertheless, in the somewhat reduced time he devoted to the practice of the law, he achieved much.
He established a law firm by the name of “Tiruchelvam Associates” which engaged in the practice of Commercial Law. The depth of his knowledge and his skills in negotiation and drafting have played a vital role in structuring high profile investment and commercial transactions significant to the economy of our country.
The next sphere of his activity to which reference should be made, is his role as a politician. He was nominated by the Tamil United Liberation Front, a party of which he was a stalwart, to represent the Vaddukoddai seat in March 1983.
He was once again nominated to Parliament by the TULF as its National List Member in 1994 after the General Election of that year, and served in this capacity, with distinction until his tragic demise.
The many speeches he made in Parliament on subjects of socio-legal importance were well researched and profound in the message that they conveyed.
Finally, I wish to refer to his role as an activist of civil society. In this sphere too he made a vibrant and lasting contribution. Dr. Tiruchelvam was the Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICFS) and the Director of the Law and Society Trust (LST), and helped found both institutions. ICES is a center of interdisciplinary research into all aspects of ethnicity.
LST is concerned with questions of human rights, democracy and civil society in South Asia and publishes an annual report on the Status of Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
The many spheres of activity of the late Dr. Neelan Tiru-chelvam referred to by me albeit briefly demonstrate his learning skill and versatility. He was above all a man of peace who walked through life with charity to all and malice towards none. It is human to be saddened by his tragic demise.
I direct the Registrar of this Court to send a minute of these proceedings to his family so that this widow and children being persons who are associated with the law, will know that we share their grief.
‟Sabbapapassa akaranam Kusalassa upasampada
Sacitta pariyodapanam Etam Buddhana sananam”
‟Avoid Evil Do Good Purify the Mind This is the teaching of all Buddhas”