Features
1st Death Anniversary Jan. 5
Kumar Ponnambalam

by a leading International Lawyer, President of the International Law Association, Mr. Desmond Fernando.
Kumar Ponnambalam was one of the greatest Sri Lankans of our generation. In my view, and I speak as a non-Tamil, he was the greatest Tamil political leader of our times — dedicated, courageous and out-spoken.

Kumar received his early education at King’s College, London and Cambridge where he did his Post-graduate studies. He was then called to the English Bar by Lincoln’s Inn, London. On his return to Sri Lanka he was enrolled as an Advocate of the Supreme Court.

Kumar was the only son of the late G. G. Ponnambalam, Q.C., the foremost Tamil Leader of his time. G. G. Ponnambalam was one of Sri Lanka’s most brilliant orator and was both a Member of the State Council prior to independence and subsequently a Member of Parliament. And for sometime from his Party, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, he then joined the Government. He was Minister of Industries in the 1950s. During the time of the Dudley Senanayake Government in 1965 he led the Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations. Kumar’s father was also the leading Criminal Lawyer of his time.

I came to know Kumar well in the 1970s. We were both founder members of the Civil Rights Movement. Kumar was deeply connected with Human Rights. He attended the Civil Rights Movement meetings regularly and made useful and well thought of contributions. In those early days of the Civil Rights Movement the victims of the Human Rights violations were Sinhala youths and Kumar would appear without a fee in cases where Sinhala youths have been charged. One of his early victories was a difficult case where a police Officer had been killed after a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy because of a well known Dharmasekara case. It was a complicated case and Kumar conducted it in Sinhala with his usual ability and tolerance and won. He strongly opposed the Criminal Justice Commission as being a violation of the Rule of Law and the right to a fair trial. He also realised that it was a bad precedent provided by the two parallel systems of Justice. A precedent that could be followed in the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

From 1978 to 1998 I was the Secretary of the Civil Rights Movement and Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe was its Chairman. At these meetings a statement was made and Kumar wanted the statement to be made in stronger language. But Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe said, No No Kumar we would like to have some moderate language and smiling he gave into and said it is very well my Lord.

He was a strong opponent of the 1982 Referendum. He expressed his opposition in his usual strong language. Kumar had a particular standard of the Civil Rights Movement during the referendum i.e. in 1982. He had become the Leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress. His party was represented in an alliance with political parties that opposed the Referendum. The Civil Rights Movement view was that the issue should be fought on the basis of the principle of regular election alone leaving aside political issues. Kumar who regularly attended Civil Rights Movement meetings was also a strategy on the Referendum. He was convinced that the approach of the Civil Rights Movement was the right one and in turn he was able to convince the group of parties with whom he was working to take the same view. Through Kumar they adopted the C.R.M. draft for the short leaflet why you should not vote for referendum which later became the basis of the country wide campaign of the no vote.

Kumar had a very high profile in public and controvercial stands on political matters. In those matters he was legitimate and will never bring such controversies to the Civil Rights Movement. He was a regular user of the Nadesan Centre Library where he read the latest material on Human Rights. Kumar was by nature democratic, liberal and tolerant. His commitment to Human Rights never wavered throughout his life.

Kumar was also a Politician. He was the great son of a great father but shared with the Tamil people who are his heritage, his trend and his mission. His father led the Tamil people as one English student of the Sri Lankan Ethnic problem has turned the era of responsive co-operation between Tamil leaders and Sinhalese leaders.

Kumar made a very difficult transition from this position to the advocacy of a separate State which was his position at the time of his death. As the co-office position he believed that the Tamils should always act with dignity. He believed that the Tamils should fight for their rights and demands their rights, not negotiate or beg for representation. Kumar himself was highly principled and was respected by those who agreed with him and by those who did not. His political position itself in the strongest language was the style and words. He was devoted to the Tamil people. He espoused their cause both at home and abroad. In major sphere at the Human Rights Commission held in Geneva Mrs. Eardley the leader of the British Delegation to the Human Rights Commission told me of the brilliance with which he had presented the case of the Tamil people at the Human Rights Commission meeting of 1999 in Geneva. She also spoke of his tremendous commitment to the Tamil cause and told me that she was upset when she heard of his mysterious murder. She wonder, and indeed I wonder too whether any one else could speak for the Tamil people with such great eloquence.

He appeared as a Lawyer frequently in cases where Tamils were charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and secured their acquittal. He was a Lawyer of great brilliance. He was a superb cross examiner in both English and Sinhala. He was also deeply concerned of the plight of the Tamils in Colombo who under went great harassment and it was Kumar that they came. So he had the oratory power of a Politician, the courage of a lion and the kind heart of a little child. At the time of his death he was the best loved leader of the Tamils living in the South. Kumar however did not expect his friends to agree with his political views. His personal relationships were never coloured by his political belief. His best of friends were those who opposed his views strongly and openly.

He was never communal minded. And one of his qualities was tolerance. He always enjoyed a good argument. Kumar was a man of immense charm, an excellent conversationalist. Kumar was a deeply sincere friend. In adversity he stood by his friends and the achievements of his friends brought him great joy. He was always polite, simple, unassuming and very gentle. Above all he was a great human being.

My friends, let us today, on his Birthday dedicate ourselves to the cause of Human Rights and continue to fight for justice for the oppressed.


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