Tributes to Neelan Tiruchelvam

Tribute By Chief Justice Sarath Silva

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,

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Tribute By Michael Ondaatje

Michal Ondaatje paid tribute to Neelan Tiruchelvam when he accepted the PEP award in April 2011 in New York. “The book rested on her lap, like a doorway.” D.H. Lawrence wrote that in The Rainbow, in 1915. Today

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Tribute By Roberto Unger

We reproduce a tribute by Dr. Tiruchelvam’s friend Prof. Roberto Unger of Harvard Law School. It was delivered on September 17, 1999 at a memorial held at Harvard Law School. Prof. Unger is now the Minister of Strategic

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Tribute by Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy

CANADA CONDEMNS THE MURDER OF SRI LANKAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT DR. NEELAN TIRUCHELVAM Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) Raymond Chan today strongly condemned the murder of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam on July 29, 1999.

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Tribute by Radhika Coomaraswamy

We reproduce a tribute by Radhika Coomaraswamy, then Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, which was published in the Sunday Times on 22nd August 1999. “I shall not look upon his like again” (Hamlet Act 1

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Tribute by President Bill Clinton to Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam

Hillary and I were shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Neelan Tiruchelvam at the hands of terrorists in Sri Lanka today. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife and family. Neelan Tiruchelvam was a constitutional lawyer and human rights advocate who was well-known and well-respected far beyond his country. He devoted himself to seeking a peaceful and just solution to the tragic conflict that has caused so much bloodshed in Sri Lanka. Hillary was deeply moved by her meeting with Mr. Tiruchelvam during her 1995 visit to Sri Lanka. With his death, a powerful voice for reconciliation in Sri Lanka has been silenced. I hope that this tragedy will spur efforts to find an end to the fighting and to build a lasting peace in Sri Lanka. [ 29th July 1999 ]


Paid the Ultimate Price for his Ideals by Hillary Clinton

These remarks were made at the National Democratic Institute’s 13th Annual Awards acceptance by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, D.C. on September 23, 1999.


Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, MP with US First Lady Hillary Clinton in April 1995

I am constantly amazed at the sacrifices that people make—men and women—who believe what we say here in our country, who are committed to giving the gift of freedom to their people. We have lost some wonderful champions of freedom and democracy this past year. Paul read their names out and reflected on each. Of course, we all know the extraordinary contributions that Wayne Kirkland (ph.) made here in our country and around the world. The other two names that Paul mentioned may not be as well known, but I knew them both.
The last time I saw Galeena was in Sophia, Bulgaria, where we were having a conference about women and were attempting to bring together representatives of the public and private sectors of South Eastern Europe. She was there with that same energy and spirit that she brought to her path-breaking work in Russia, where she was literally one of the first people to create a new democratic party for her country. She intended to continue her work in politics, and she paid for her commitment to democracy and her fight against corruption with her life when she was gunned down in St. Petersburg.
Similarly, I had the great privilege of meeting in Sri Lanka, Neelan Tiruchelvam, who was an advocate on behalf of victims of violence. He himself was (inaudible) that he stood against the extraordinary violence that has plagued his country for so many decades. My meeting with him when I was in Columbo was one of the most vivid memories I have of all of my travels around the world. Because of his commitment to peace and democracy and reconciliation, he went to where others feared to go. And he too paid the ultimate price.


Tribute By Cheif Justice Sarath Silva

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court last Friday paid a 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”


Tribute By Michael Ondaatje

Michal Ondaatje paid tribute to Neelan Tiruchelvam when he accepted the PEP award in April 2011 in New York.

“The book rested on her lap, like a doorway.”

D.H. Lawrence wrote that in The Rainbow, in 1915.

Today we’re luckier, living in a time of great translations and translators. We can be influenced by every part of the world, artistically, politically. There are so many open doors it is almost perverse to be insular. “The pure products of America go crazy,”wrote that good doctor, William Carlos Williams.

I want to speak of the strange magic of such influences.

In Sri Lanka the great dancer, Chitresena, created and performed remarkable works throughout his life. He was essential in reviving and celebrating the vernacular in dance. I asked him once, late in his life, what made him a dancer, and he said it was when he read the autobiography of Isadora Duncan. A book written by an American dancer made him a revolutionary choreographer in Sri Lanka. He never saw her dance.

Growing up in Sri Lanka (then living in England, then North America) similar haphazard influences have shaped me. I am a mongrel of place, of race, of cultures, and many genres. I am sure my writing has been influenced and altered by, among other things, Diego Rivera’s frescoes,

Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 recordings, the anti-linear structure of temple art in Sri Lanka, as well as the radical beauty of Kurt Schwitters’ collages, and the raw materials in a Rauschenberg. I suspect I am more influenced by other genres than by writing itself..

But I had grown up in an oral tradition rather than a literary one. Tall stories, gossip, arguments and lies at the dinner table. I would not be interested in ‘the writing life’ for a long time. On the back of one Penguin paperback I read that the English author, Nigel Balchin, wrote his first novel during his honeymoon! It sounded a dire warning of what had to be given up.

Today, as I said, we are surrounded by so many art forms and translated texts…so that, as John Berger writes, ‘Never again will a single story be as though it were the only one.’ A person grows up in Colombo or Wichita or Port Said and their true mentor could be Calvino or Miles Davis, or it could a political gesture or act taking place in a far away place. 

When I was asked to say something at this event, my first thought was that I wanted to speak about Neelan

Tiruchelvam. Neelan was a Tamil lawyer and member of parliament in Sri Lanka. He headed the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo. He was a lover of literature. He brought writers and thinkers in from all parts of the world to speak there. He knew Tagore by heart, and translated him. As a parliamentarian he believed in self-determination for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority through negotiation and constitutional reform. And he always opposed and fought human-rights abuses committed by the nation’s military as well as by the Tamil Tigers. He was a moderate. And moderates are often the first to be killed in such a war. He was assassinated, blown up, by the Tigers in July 1999 outside the Center for Ethnic Studies in Colombo.

All these years later, I still think of Neelan. His name blinks there, on my computer, every day. Few people here know about him.

How do we, as authors, feel we have a right to stand beside someone like him? Or the journalist Lasantha

Wickrematunge, who wrote news articles criticizing the government and was probably killed by those he criticized.

I don’t know. It feels there is this great gulf between them and us.

But just as we see people like Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lasantha Wickrematunge as our heroes, I do know that Neelan’s heroes were writers. He had brought so many of them to the Ethnic Centre, including Arundhati Roy. He loved Akhmatova and would quote her poetry often in his speeches in parliament. Akhmatova, another influence, from another part of the world. “Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.”

So a radical idea in an English book inspires a dancer in Sri Lanka. A Russian poet’s words are quoted by a young Tamil lawyer in Colombo…. The power of words, no matter how unpolitical a sentence might seem, changes us. How important a sentence is, a pen.

I was truly surprised to be given this award. I know this is an award for Writing. But I would like to accept it on behalf of Neelan Tiruchelvan, who loved the truth he found in literature. If writers influenced him, he must always influence us.


Tribute By Roberto Unger

We reproduce a tribute by Dr. Tiruchelvam’s friend Prof. Roberto Unger of Harvard Law School. It was delivered on September 17, 1999 at a memorial held at Harvard Law School. Prof. Unger is now the Minister of Strategic Planning in Brazil.

Neelan Tiruchelvam had an idea and a passion. His idea was that we are all

connected. His passion was love. Civilization grows out of trust. Neelan worked as a jurist and a statesman, to devise practical arrangements enabling trust to flourish.

We are, wrote Schopenhauer, like porcupines wounding one another with their spikes when they huddle together against the cold, freezing when they separate, and moving restlessly, back and forth, between closeness and apartness. They look for the middle distance.

Neelan recognized the need for the middle distance, not as the end, but as the beginning. From separation and protection would come self-possession strength, and from strength magnanimity. Neelan’s genius was to imagine the otherness of other people.

His craft was to strike the compromises and to build the institutions that would reconcile people’s claims to develop, collectively, the otherness they have and want. The schemes of reform I liked to discuss with him he considered with benevolent skepticism.

He understood, intuitively and from the outset, what it has taken me so long to appreciate: that all such plans come to nothing unless we achieve them on the ground of human reconciliation.

To do this work, Neelan had to fight – to fight, if he could, without hurting. It was fighting untainted by zealotry and self-deception, because it was informed by love.

Although Neelan was a hopeful and a faithful man, his love outreached his hope and his faith. Neelan was possessed by love: for his wife, for his sons, for his community, for his country, and for the individuals he met along the way. He had the capacity to acknowledge them as the originals they all really are and know themselves to be. The fighting without hurting brought hope to his country. To him it brought complete life and violent death.

It was Neelan’s fate to come to maturity in a society torn by fear and hatred. By accepting this fate, and struggling with it, he made himself into a man. But Neelan was not the opposite of Sri Lanka. His country made him. Through him it spoke with another voice. In him it signified its intention to become greater and better than it is.

As we reach middle age, we fall into a funnel of narrowing possibilities. Around each of us a mummy begins to form. We must break out of the mummy to continue living. Neelan avoided the many small deaths that waste away a loveless and uninspired life, and lived for real until the day he was killed. 

He knew that the essence of moral wisdom is to unprotect ourselves, being prudent in the little things, the better to be foolhardy in the big ones.

Into this dark world comes redeeming love, unshaken, unsubdued, unterrified. It comes and it changes us, although we would rather be ruined than changed.

Thirty years and a month have passed since I first met Neelan, only a few steps from the place where I now stand. The thing about him was his unscanny shine – from his eyes, from his skin – enveloping me, and going out, further and further into the darkness around him, and promising to last, until we can see the others, and hear their voices, and find our hearts of stone turned into hearts of flesh.

– Prof. Roberto Unger, Harvard Law School


Tribute by Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy


Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) Raymond Chan today strongly condemned the murder of

Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam on July 29, 1999.

Dr. Tiruchelvam was a leading figure in the search for a peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s long-standing ethnic conflict, as well as a tireless advocate for human rights. He was a Member of Parliament, a Constitutional Lawyer, Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), and Director of the Law and Society Trust

“This crime has silenced the voice of a man who was committed to the path of peace, but it must not silence those in Sri Lanka who have the courage to follow Dr. Tiruchelvam’s lead,” said Mr. Axworthy. “Canada expresses its sympathies and condolences to Dr. Tiruchelvam’s family and colleagues, and we call on the government of Sri Lanka to undertake a vigorous and rapid investigation of this crime and to bring those responsible to justice.”

Mr. Chan expressed his personal sadness on hearing the news. “During our meeting in Sri Lanka, in June 1995, Dr. Tiruchelvam and I discussed a wide array of societal and governmental problems that he was trying to address through his work at the ICES. His contributions to civil society in Sri Lanka will be sorely missed.”

Dr. Tiruchelvam’s murder by a suicide bomber is seen as an attempt by extremist elements within Sri Lanka to derail imminent constitutional reforms that Dr. Tiruchelvam was instrumental in drafting.

Canada has supported the ICES and the Law and Society Trust through the Human Rights Fund, Peacebuilding Fund and Canada Fund. Other organizations working toward deepening the commitment to human rights, good governance and conflict resolution have also received support.


Tribute by Radhika Coomaraswamy

We reproduce a tribute by Radhika Coomaraswamy, then Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, which was published in the Sunday Times on 22nd August 1999.

“I shall not look upon his like again” (Hamlet Act 1 sc. 2)

A few days before he died, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam gave a memorial lecture on one of Sri Lanka’s leading lawyers.

Before the doyen of the legal community, he spoke of the Tamil epic, The Shilappadikaamr and using its symbolism analysed modern constitutional law, including the concepts of the unitary state, democracy and human rights. According to those present, this was Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam at his best, weaving cultural symbols with the cold face of the law giving it life and meaning. Many said that it was a supreme moment of triumph, a brilliant presentation by one of South Asia’s leading jurists. The speech also highlighted Dr. Tiruchelvam’s twin interests and the motivating forces of his life – the law and the love of South Asian culture.

Dr. Tiruchelvam was the son of one of Sri Lanka’s leading lawyers and Tamil politicians. From a young age he was trained in the law by his father. He excelled in law school and then went onto do his LLM and SJD at the Harvard Law school, where he was a Fulbright scholar. He formed a lifelong attachment to this institution and often went back to teach for a semester or two. The Boston Globe carried in its pages the grief stricken statements of his colleagues at the Law School, including that of the Dean upon hearing of the tragedy. On September 17, the Law School is due to have a special commemoration ceremony to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and have invited his close family members for the occasion.

This tribute by one of the world’s leading law schools only highlights the fact that Dr. Tiruchelvam was first and foremost a scholar of eminence. His political activism was a result of deeply held beliefs arising out of his scholarship and his love of ideas. He was a voracious reader. Despite his many commitments, he would find the time to read the many books in his comprehensive library. What was fascinating about Dr. Tiruchelvam’s approach to the law was that, from its very inception, it was a multi disciplinary study. His first thesis was a socio-legal study of Kandyan law and throughout his career he read books on history, anthropology, sociology and political science. He carried on a constant dialogue with the leading thinkers of South Asia from Ashis Nandy to Gananath Obeyesekere. He drew them around him and their work and ideas infused the institutions of research that he set up in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Tiruchelvam’s primary area of interest was constitutional law. Though his concern for human rights animated his work, Dr. Tiruchelvam was interested in all aspects of constitutional law. His skills in the area were internationally recognised and he helped draft constitutions in countries of Central Asia and that of Ethiopia. It was his belief that constitutions should be consensual not just instrumental and they represent the moral role of the society.

is in the area of human rights that Dr. Tiruchelvam made his greatest contribution and it is the human rights activists in all of the world who will most miss his work. The research institutions he set up, The International Centre for Ethnic

Studies and The Law and Society Trust became important for research in the human rights area and its activism. Dr. Tiruchelvam’s commitment to human rights made him an integral part of international civil society. The outpourings of grief in statement after statement from well known human rights groups and NGOs and the special commemoration meeting held in the premises of the United Nations, New York are testimony to this fact. Their response to his death was captured at the Sub Commission session of the Human Rights Commission when Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Chairman Aisborne Eide made special references to Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam in their opening addresses.

Dr. Tiruchelvam was also elected Chairman of the prestigious Minority Rights Group in London and their commitment to his vision is so deep that they have opened a special web site for the dissemination of his life and work.

Among Dr. Tiruchelvam’s other abiding interests and passions was the immensely wealthy culture of South Asia. While the love of law came from his father, the love of South Asia’s culture was inherited from his mother Punidham Tiruchelvam, an extraordinary lady who was involved in Tamil cultural life and social service. Dr. Tiruchelvam’s interest in cultural studies made him focus on ethnicity as a phenomenon. A large part of the ICES programme was related to the political issues of power sharing combined with ethnic equality. He engaged in projects studying devolution, federalism, language policy, land settlement, employment equity and other related matters . Publications emerged as he encouraged researchers to work hard.

His rapport with young people was extraordinary. He made each one feel special. He expected them to put in the twenty four hour work day that he himself did. He inspired them with ideas, encouraged them to read books and as Ruwanthie Chickera said at his funeral, he taught them that the difference between a dream and its realisation was the power of will. During the nearly twenty years of its life, The International Centre for Ethnic Studies and The Law Society Trust, dozens of young people from both Sri Lanka and the outside world have passed through their portals imbuing the breath of fresh air that it emanated. When the news of the tragedy reached the outside world making headlines in the world press, the calls and e-mails came pouring in. Many wept uncontrollably for a man who had often given them their first research idea, who had encouraged their natural creativity and who was always willing to give them responsibility.

Many of the young people and interns who came to the ICES were feminists drawn to the Centre because of its feminist research programme. Dr. Tiruchelvam encouraged their ideas, was particularly interested in feminist theory and its contribution to legal paradigms and closely followed their work. When he died, the news was on all the leading feminist e-mail networks with special tributes, a rare privilege for a man in very much a feminine world.

His last act at the Centre was to encourage me with words and ideals dealing with the long-term issues raised by problems that women are faced with, ethnicity and armed conflict, a lecture I was to give in Geneva as part of an ICES lecture series.

He had inaugurated this lecture series against all odds in tune with meetings of the U.N. working on the group of Minorities. He was delighted when Mary Robison the U.N High Commissioner for Human rights agreed to chair this meeting put together by an emerging world NGO. He read my script in detail and gave me extensive notes, as he had done throughout my working life. He was the “safety net for many people and many institutions. Despite all his commitments of time, he gave every research colleague and intern his full attention, read their work and made detailed suggestions. That is how seriously he took the world of ideas.

He pushed The International Centre for Ethnc Studies to organise cultural events. He loved films and the Centre organised The South Asian Documentary Film Festival for many years. He had programmes of contemporary films shown at the ICES. He invited musicians and dancers from South Asia to come and give demonstrations and lectures. Leading exponents of Bharatha Natyam and Kathak dances as well as that of Carnatic music have passed through the portals of the ICES.

Dr. Tiruchlvam’s interest in culture was not confined to specific events, it was about everyday life. If a visitor came from abroad, he or she was given the typical “Neelan Tour”. They were taken to the Gotami Vihara, where the chief monk often familiarised them with the George Keyt paintings. They were then taken on a tour of the remains of the Dutch period in the Fort. Finally in the evening, at dusk, they were taken to the temple in Dehiwela to witness the Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes. The monk would light the lamp near the eyes of the Buddha and following that act, The Buddha’s Enlightenment into the true state of phenomena, had always a very special meaning.

His love of things of culture did not relate just to Sri Lankan but also to South Asian. He collected books and CDs on all of South Asian matters. He loved South Indian bronzes, Moghul miniatures and The Sakyamuni Buddha adorned his office. Prior to conferences he would visit the ancient cities of South Asia and study their history and culture. He would give all participants a guided tour of the monuments and places of worship. Nothing made him happier than discovering the history and culture of all of South Asia.

Dr. Tiruchelvam and his wife Sithie were generous to a fault. They would be hospitable to everyone and Dr. Tiruchelvam had time for every human being who came to see him whether they be rich, poor, strong or weak. He would go to extraordinary lengths to help people. If he believed someone’s story he would leave no stone unturned in his effort to help them.

A young couple was weeping in a corner at his funeral house and I asked them their name. They said they were Wijesinghes. They said that for each problem they would call Dr. Tiruchelvam for advice. There were hundreds of such people, including my mother and her many widowed friends. He would always have time for them and he always did come up with suggestions and a solution.

Since his father was a leading Tamil politician, Dr. Tiruchelvam entered politics through the Tamil United Liberation Front. He was deeply concerned about the Tamil people and their aspirations. Whenever able, he implored the government to act with restraint in conducting the war. He always was for a negotiated settlement. But being a pacifist and non-violent to the core of his being, he put his energies into drafting Constitutions and creating human rights institutions in government as well as in civil society. He was extremely creative in the setting up of institutions but the men and women who manned them did not always live up to his expectations. Tamil politics nurtured Dr. Tiruchelvam but it was Tamil politics that killed him. He helped the government agents in the various war affected areas articulate their qrievences about the needs of the civil population.

Hours were spent on the telephone pleading his case with the powers that be. He was not always successful but he continued to try anyway, believing that dialogue and discussion was the only way forward. The Tamils have lost a powerful voice that articulated their grievances within the democratic fabric of Sri Lanka.

His involvement in political life encouraged many in civil society . He was a great believer in parliamentary democracy and the independence of the judiciary. He believed in the primacy of the electoral process. At ICES he inaugurated a programme of election moniteering for all of South Asia.

The ICES brought together leaders of civil society and he took them for election moniteering in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India in addition to Sri Lanka. When the process of constitutional drafting was on, he would gather all the leading intellectuals of the region at seminars and discussions to get their input into the process. He was passionately committed to non-violence and the processes of democracy. That was more important to him than ideology based on ethnicity.

Many people believed that Dr. Tiruchelvam was the most brilliant product of his generation. He was not only an ideas man. He created dynamic institutions both in civil society and in the government. His commitment to institution building was unparalleled in South Asia. He was a very creative, imaginative person who was also blessed with a practical, analytical mind. His death must not end with the triumph of mediocrity and barbarism in a country often filled with despair.

It is important that his legacy be continued and that his friends take over where he left off and make his vision a reality.

With the death of Dr. Tiruchelvam, the world has lost a man who dreamed impossible dreams but made them a reality; Sri Lanka has lost a democrat and a peacemaker, the Tamil people have lost a man who deeply cared for their security and their aspirations; his colleagues have lost their inspiration and his commitment to excellence, his friends have lost his generosity and nurturing ways and his family have lost a loyal and caring husband and father. We are all the poorer without him.

As a columnist recently wrote “We always kill the best.” But in responding to his killing we must seek the views of his son, Mithran. When a New York Times reporter asked him what his father would have felt about the assassination, Mithran replied that his father would not have been angry, he would only have been sad.