In memory of Maheswary Velautham - 14 May 2008

In memory of Maheswary Velautham - 14 May 2008  (2008)  by Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

From The Official Website of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)

The Peace Secretariat profoundly regrets the murder of Ms Maheswary Velautham during a visit to Jaffna to see her sick mother. Given the plethora of deaths this country suffers from, the Secretariat has not been accustomed to issuing statements of sympathy and sorrow for individual cases. We regret the lives of known and unknown, of civilian and military, and even the lives of our fellow citizens who have been conscripted or deluded into fighting intransigently for a terrorist movement. Soldiers or ministers, rebels or the over hundred civilians who fell prey to suicide bombs and other instruments of terror in the south in the last four months, they are all Sri Lankans and it did not seem to make sense to bewail them individually.

Maheswary is one such individual, martyred to terrorist intransigence, but the day and the manner of her death are symbolic of the uphill struggle Sri Lanka faces if we are to restore the pluralist democracy that we need. It occurred just after the election of a Provincial Council that should be able to fulfil the diverse demands of development in the East, whilst maintaining the unity of the country. It occurred shortly after the appointment of a Task Force for the North, that would be able to promote the needs and aspirations of the people there who have suffered for too long from totalitarianism and terror, during which specific measures for development fell by the wayside. These are positive steps, but they will be subject all the way to spoilers, the spoilers who cannot take electoral defeat, even though they deprived the country of elections for a decade in the eighties and thus nurtured terrorism in North and South, and the spoilers who, springing from that bitter birth, believe that a fight to the death is the only option open to them.

Maheswary's murder occurred too on the day when Sri Lanka was subject to the Universal Periodic Review with regard to Human Rights, for which the country had put itself forward in terms of its membership of the Human Rights Council. Ironically, it brought home to those worried about continuing violence in Sri Lanka the root cause of all this violence, the terrorism that victimizes everybody, but most obviously the vulnerable. Thus she was killed when she went up in haste to see her sick mother, leaving aside the security given to her because she believed that, amongst her own relations, she would not be in danger. We recall now what happened to Mr Kadirgamar, who did not allow the homes of his neighbours to be searched, in the belief that they were like him and could be relied upon.

The Sri Lankan delegation had explained that it accepted that there had been a period in which human rights were in grave danger, but it pointed out that the situation had improved over the last year, as statistics made clear, with regard to disappearances and deaths, and in particular those of journalists, which had been highlighted in questions. It was noted that 2006 had seen much internecine warfare, given the brutal manner in which the LTTE had treated former militants after ensuring that they were disarmed under the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. The Peace Secretariat had noted that these groups had no redress at all, since under the CFA complaints to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission had to be forwarded by only the government and the LTTE, and unfortunately in those days the government thought that Tamils were not its responsibility. More recently the Secretariat had appointed Tamil monitors to Vavuniya and Trincomalee and Amparai, areas in which the 2002 government had abandoned all Tamils to the LTTE.

It is in such a context that the government has had an uphill struggle to ensure the reintegration of moderate Tamils into the political process. It has taken an enormous amount of courage for such moderate Tamils to resume active participation in democracy and discussion, through the All Party Representative Committee, through elections, through involvement in executive action, in the Cabinet and now through the Task Force for the North. The courage of those who have taken this path against all odds, those in the TULF, the EPDP, PLOTE, the EPRLF-P, the TMVP and other groups, and so many individuals, must never be forgotten. The commitment of the government, that such moderate Tamils, groups and individuals, must never be abandoned again remains absolute, and it is the least that can be done for the brave lady of whom we are now bereft.

At a personal level, the Secretariat worked closely with Maheswary Velautham, as she is currently the nominee of the EPDP to the APRC. She was the legal adviser to the Hon Douglas Devananda, Leader of the EPDP, and was a lawyer and forceful Human Rights Activist. As the only woman member of the APRC, she was more than capable of holding her own in discussion, and was a strong, vibrant and enthusiastic participant at its deliberations.

She was deeply committed to a political resolution of the conflict and to a united Sri Lanka where all ethnic and religious communities would live together in peace and dignity. In a sense she was a true reflection of a multi cultural Sri Lanka, speaking all three languages - Tamil, Sinhala and English - and moving easily with people from all communities and districts.

Passionate in seeking to meet the aspirations of the people in the North and the East whom her party represented, within a context of democratic pluralism, she could speak poignantly and forcefully in Sinhalese too. She spoke eloquently for unity in diversity and for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, in a speech she made at a press conference the APRC gave following the presentation of its first report on the implementation of the 13th amendment to the President on 23 January 2008.

In addition to her deep and vibrant political and social commitment, Ms Velautham was closely involved in meditation and spiritualism and often said that this was an effective way to reach an understanding of one's self as well as others. It was also she thought a pathway to love and peace for all humanity. She was an admirable example of an accomplished, humane, articulate, courageous and professional Sri Lankan woman.

Two weeks ago, asked to be part of the Sri Lankan delegation to the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Conference, she spoke passionately on an area in which she felt the expansion of opportunities was essential. Her vibrancy and sense of humour and camaraderie at that conference exemplified her thorough commitment to service through sympathetic involvement. She will be sorely missed, yet another of the brave Tamil moderates who are the principal targets of terrorist totalitarianism. We can only hope that the democratic pluralism for which she stood up so fatefully will go from strength to strength, nurtured by such unswerving commitment.