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In the Path of Adrian Wijemanne

Date: 28 September 2006

Source : Tamil Writers Guild - By Brian Senewiratne, MA MD FRCP FRACP, Brisbane, Australia

His parting words to me were, “I am leaving this in your hands. Don’t give up, it is a cause that every decent human being should support, irrespective of the cost.”

On 17 September 2006, the Eelam Tamil Association (ETA) of Victoria, Australia, held an “Anjali” in Melbourne to celebrate the life of Adrian Wijemanne. I was invited to speak. I said that Adrian would have wanted me to address the current problems in Sri Lanka, rather than sing his praises. I dealt with a number of problems, especially the escalating violation of human rights.

On the previous day, 16 September, a new organisation, Australians for Human Rights, was launched in Sydney which I also addressed. Both these addresses will be sent to the net for publication. Since there was an inevitable overlap in some areas, I have removed some of the details on the violation of human rights from the former and added them to the latter to avoid repetition.

The Melbourne address [1]

“President of the ETA of Victoria, Ranee Eliezer, ladies and gentlemen”. I appreciate your invitation to me to speak at this ‘Anjali’ to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man, Adrian Wijemanne, who was such a strong supporter of the cause of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth. I am particularly grateful to Ranee, the widow of an outstanding Tamil, the late Prof. C.J.Eliezer. At 85, Ranee is still a live-wire and the driving force behind this meeting, and much more. She has been a pain-in-the neck, harassing people to get this meeting off the ground. My gratitude and sympathy to M.P. who copped the harassment and simply had to organise this, if only to get his wife off his back. My thanks to the ETA for sponsoring this meeting”. My thanks to all of you who have braved the usual Melbourne weather to turn up in such large numbers to fill this huge hall. It is a fitting response of a grateful community to a truly great man.

Adrian was, like me, a Sinhalese who has, for many years, campaigned for the cause of the Tamil people. There are some similarities between the two of us, but also some enormous differences which will become apparent as we go along. In following “the Path of Adrian”, I am not referring to myself. I invite all of you, to follow the enlightened path blazed by Adrian.

Adrian is a hard act to follow, mainly because of his knowledge of history which he used so effectively in predicting the future and pointing to the direction from which peace will come to Sri Lanka. It is this historical perspective which will be missed so much, as the Government of Sri Lanka tries to swim against the tide of history.

About the man

Adrian Wijemanne was born on 29 May 1925 to one of the leading Sinhalese families in Kalutara, just south of Colombo.

Royal College and the Ceylon University

He entered Royal College, one of the great schools (then and now) in Colombo. It is the 3rd oldest school in the island (Ceylon, as it then was, and still should be [2]), founded in 1835 by an amazing British Governor, Robert Wilmot Horton [3]. This famous boys-school has produced some outstanding people - a Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Attorney General and many others who held key positions in government service, industry and commerce. To balance things, it also produced the first Executive President of Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s first dictator! [4] Of the distinguished ones that Royal College has produced, if the totality of the product is considered, Adrian Wijemanne was the best. The motto of the school, initially called the Hill St Academy, and later renamed Royal College, says it all - “Disce aut Discede” (learn or depart). The school now has more than 5,500 students!

After a brilliant career in this outstanding school, he entered the University of Ceylon to read European History, Indian History and Ceylon History. That was the background that set this man apart - and with which he was able to make such a forceful contribution to the Tamil struggle.

Government service

In 1947 (age 22) he passed the most elite examination in Ceylon, the then “Ceylon Civil Service”, which enabled him, if he chose, to put the magic ‘CCS’ after his name. He went on to work in Government service, holding several important positions in the Ministry of Lands and Irrigation. In the last five years of his 11 year stint, he was the Deputy Land Commissioner.

Quitting Ceylon

During Sirima Bandaranaike’s first Government in the early 1960s, unable to cope with the emerging political interference, indiscipline and anti-Tamil discrimination, he opted for early retirement. After a short stint in the private sector in Colombo, he left Ceylon to join the World Council of Churches, as the Head of the Development Board in Geneva, moving later to Amsterdam (and becoming a Dutch citizen). He retired in the early 1990s, to move to England with his wife Chitra, to be close to their daughter Shevanthi.

Before I go on with Adrian’s life, can I change focus and ask you to look at the situation in Sri Lanka since Adrian. Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have left the country. Many Tamils have left because of the intolerable violation of human rights they have faced. The others have left for the same reason that Adrian did. Sri Lanka, both the Sinhalese South and the Tamil North-East, cannot afford this massive drain of able people. Unless the current problems, which are not only the ethnic problem but serious problems in governance, are addressed, the country will be depleted of people with talent and ability. An “unwinnable and unending war” as Adrian put it, will result in bankruptcy (as occurred in Ethiopia), a total destruction of infrastructure (as in East Timor – the poorest nation on earth), or a ‘failed State’ (such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Ivory Coast). Adrian’s ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ was to try and prevent Sri Lanka going down this suicidal pathway.

Involvement in Ethnic conflict

It was after he retired that Adrian immersed himself completely in the devastating ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan Government and the ‘minority’ Tamils. He was one of a handful of Sinhalese in the whole world to support the entirely justifiable cause of the Tamil people. He was the only Sinhalese to publicly state, not once, but many times, the absolute need for a Separate Tamil State, Eelam (and a Separate Sinhalese State), so that the two nations could develop separately and, perhaps, Confederate later, once each State has developed to its full potential. Such development is impossible unless the on-going military conflict is brought to an end. Adrian’s major contribution was the common sense and reason, backed by historical precedent, that he advocated so convincingly.


From 1990-2001, the publications poured out. He lectured widely in the USA, Canada and Europe and, in 1996 published his ‘opus magnum’, War and Peace, in post-colonial Ceylon 1948-1991. This essential book for anyone interested in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, he dedicated to his wife, in typical Adrian-fashion. “To Chitra my wife whose relentless opposition to this entire project and uncompromising rejection of every salient point herein have dispelled any lingering doubt as to the need, the urgent need, for this book”. This resonates with me. I know the feeling.

I would strongly suggest, with permission from Chitra Wijemanne and their daughter Shevanthi Roser, that these publications be translated into Sinhalese and made available in Sri Lanka, a country which has rejected every point that Adrian has made. Adrian found it impossible to get a single article published in Sri Lanka. He was considered such a threat that even after his death, it was not possible to get published an obituary of a man who has written more sense on the ethnic conflict than anyone I know.

Sri Lankans are the losers, not Adrian or his enormous ‘fan-club’ abroad. I doubt if any publisher in that Democratic Socialist Republic will be willing to take the risk of publishing a Sinhala translation of Adrian’s book or his invaluable articles. However, I will try.

Myeloma and death

In 2001 Adrian was diagnosed with myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer which often produces intolerable pain and is usually fatal. His life-long friend, another fine Sinhalese, Neville Jayaweera, records Adrian’s last days. “I saw him as he lay dying in hospital a few days before he passed away, but even then, though in intolerable pain, he was lamenting not his illness but the folly of Sri Lankan leaders in failing even belatedly to face up to the reality of the crisis facing the country. Two days after I saw him he went into a coma and within another two days, on the 22nd July (2006) passed away. He was 81.”

My contact

I knew of Adrian Wijemanne for a long time, but actually met him only in June 2001 when I spoke on The Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka, to the International Tamil Foundation, London, which Adrian had addressed twice. He was too ill to come down to London for the meeting and I drove up to Cambridge to visit him and his charming wife in their modest apartment. Adrian had been an inspiration to me for years. Despite all his fame and achievements (in the 1990s the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva gave him a hearing in his personal capacity, an unprecedented act for a UN body), he was a soft-spoken, quiet man, willing more to listen than to talk. When he did, his brilliance, conviction, sincerity and integrity were obvious. His parting words to me were, “I am leaving this in your hands. Don’t give up, it is a cause that every decent human being should support, irrespective of the cost.”

What did he believe in, why and at what cost?

Adrian believed in the cause of the Tamil people because he felt it was a just cause and it was the right thing to do. He supported the Tamil people in their attempt to free themselves from Sinhalese domination and discrimination. He simply loathed injustice and oppression and supported not only the struggles of the Tamils, but also of the Bosnians, the Palestinians, the Chechnyans, and other militant groups, struggling to free their people form domination, This he did undeterred by the cost – which, where his Sri Lankan involvement was concerned, was not insignificant. Sinhalese ‘patriots’ (read extremists) ridiculed, abused and demonised him, sent him ‘hate mail’, threatened him with bodily harm and even death if he even set foot in Sri Lanka.

The Christian Worker

This is a quarterly ‘Left-of-centre’ and supposedly ‘Christian’ journal in Colombo, which I had supported financially at no small cost. I helped out with a substantial donation of money I did not have when the Journal faced closure. When I told the Manager of Christian Worker that I was going to see Adrian, he asked, “Why do you want to see that Tamil Tiger Terrorist?”. It clearly demonstrates that the Church in the Sinhalese South is more Sinhalese than Christian. When I told this to Adrian, the devout Christian and formerly of the World Council of Churches, he said with a quiet smile, “Are you surprised?” Frankly, I was – ‘shattered’ would be a better word. And all my money, spent, nay squandered, to support a racist journal, no different from those of the gentlemen in yellow robes who defame the teaching of Buddha.

Advice to me.

When I was being subjected to threats similar to that endured by Adrian for years, I called him from Australia. His response was typical; “Brian, this should be a tremendous encouragement to you. It means that you are hitting where it hurts. If all that these thugs can do is to threaten and abuse you, they cannot have answers to the questions you raise or a case to defend. I would say that it is far better to be treated the way you are than to be ignored.” Adrian certainly had a point, as he usually had.

What would he have wanted?

When I was asked to speak, as I was, at the funeral of Adrian’s close friend, C.J.T Thamoderam, the doyen of Tamils in the UK, I asked myself, “What would he have wanted me to say?” Neither of them would have wanted me to boast about, or even list, their achievements. They would have wanted me to address the current problems that are destroying Sri Lanka and setting it on a course to be a Failed State.

Unfortunately, there are now so many that if I deal with these, even briefly, we will be here till dawn. The best I can do is to circulate a couple of pages with the problems listed. Perhaps we can have a meeting in the not too distant future where these critical issues can be discussed and, what is more important, take the necessary action to address them. In the time available today, all I can do is to briefly mention a few:

Involvement, support, and unity

Get involved.

I ask you, urge you, implore you, to get involved and support the cause of the Tamil people. The struggle of the Tamil people is to free themselves from the murderous, racist and irresponsible regime in the Sri Lankan South which claims to be the Government of Sri Lanka. I do not want to exaggerate or be melodramatic, but the Tamil people in the NorthEast, are facing the most serious problem they have faced in their 2,500 years of recorded history. It is genocide of the Tamil people that masquerades as “A War on Tamil Terrorism”, conducted by the Sinhalese Government and supported by many foreign countries for their own geo-political or economic gain.

Ask yourself the question – why did you come to this country? Most of you came because of the violation of your human rights in Sri Lanka. That is what we are asking for your help to address.

Take a stand

This is not an issue where you can have no opinion. You have either to support a repressive regime or an oppressed people. If you support the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) – that’s fine, you can support them and justify why you do so. If you support an oppressed people, quite literally facing annihilation by Israeli built KFir bombers, multi-barrel rocket propelled grenades, murder and starvation, then you will have to support them right now. Tomorrow may be too late. The ‘body-count’ so far, (12/9/06), is 848 Tamil civilians killed in just the last nine months since Rajapakse was elected President. The number is escalating.

Men, women and children are being targeted, for no reason other than that they are Tamils. They are being targeted deliberately, not accidentally. This is not ‘collateral damage’ in a war between the GOSL and the Tamil Tigers. This is intended, deliberate, cold-blooded murder. It is a genocidal killing of Tamils that is occurring despite a supposed Cease-Fire Agreement.

I remind you again that, like Adrian, I am a Sinhalese. So, here is a Sinhalese imploring Tamils to come to the rescue of Tamil people. I cannot think of anything more absurd. Actually it is not absurd – I am urging you to get involved, not speaking as a Sinhalese, but as a human being (as did Adrian), at the killing of other human beings who happen to be Tamils.

Do what?

Get involved in what way? Contact any of us who are actively campaigning for the Tamil people and we will tell you what you can do. I will be releasing a detailed document on this very subject of involvement when I address the AGM of the Sangam in New York on 14.10.06. I doubt whether we can wait that long. I urge you to act now – tomorrow may be too late.

Divisions in expatriate Tamils

I started by asking you, urging you and imploring you, to get involved. Can I once again ask, urge and implore you again, this time to stop this baffling in-fighting, rivalry and similar nonsense that is so rampant among expatriate Tamils the world over. Sometime ago I delivered the same talk thrice in one day to Tamil groups only a few hundred metres apart in London. “Why could you not come for the meeting I addressed a few hours ago just down the road?” “Oh! Brian, you do not understand this, but that group is different from our group, and we don’t have much to do with them”. No, I don’t understand it, because it is nonsense which, by definition, does not make sense.

Here we are, fighting one of the most barbaric, ruthless and irresponsible Governments in the world, which is trying to crush an entire Nation, the Tamil nation, and what are our ‘troops’ doing? Fighting amongst themselves! I find this incredible, but then, I am a Sinhalese and not a Tamil. Let’s give the Sinhalese credit where credit is due. There may be half a dozen different Sinhalese groups (and there are), but when it comes to fighting the Tamils, there is only one group whose commonality is being virulently anti-Tamil..

May I implore you to stop this nonsense which is only weakening our struggle. The struggle is difficult enough without it being made more difficult by ‘sabotage from within’.

Escalating Human Rights Violations

Escalating situation

There is an escalation of violations of human rights of Tamil civilians committed by the Sinhalese (99.9%) Armed Forces, escalating because the International Community (IC) of which you are a part, is doing nothing. It is this silence by the IC, this failure to condemn, this reluctance to hold the GOSL and its Armed Forces responsible, which is giving the green light to the Armed Forces and the GOSL to do as they want. In sporting terms, it is “open season” for Tamil killing. They are there to be shot at, bombed, tortured or annihilated. By your silence, you are becoming part of the problem instead of contributing to its solution.

There is an Army of Occupation in the Tamil NorthEast, behaving as one, doing as they please, with no questions asked and no accountability demanded, not by the GOSL, not by you, the International Community or anyone else.

No point documenting

There is no point in Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch and all these human rights monitors, filling up reams and reams of paper. We know the problem; we do not need any further documentation. We need to take the necessary action to stop this. Writing letters (polite ones at that, as AI suggests), to the President and the Army Commander is of little use. AI has written letters to these people for three decades, and the violations of human rights has escalated! It demands a change of strategy. The current strategy is as effective as writing letters (polite or otherwise) to Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Hitler, or any of your favourite villains. HR violations by the LTTE

You might point to human rights violations by the Tamil Tigers. They must be condemned, but it is the Government of Sri Lanka which has signed the Human Rights Conventions, and given international undertakings to safeguard the human rights of all its citizens. The Tamils, believe it or not, are citizens of that country.

Adrian addressed this over and over again. His Sinhalese friend Neville Jayaweera put this better than I can,

“Wijemanne held very strong views on the subject of terror and terrorism….. Terror is terror by whomsoever inflicted and he held that state terror was in fact more reprehensible because it had unlimited access to sophisticated technology and could easily cloak evil in the vestments of legality and legitimacy. He often cited the USA, the UK, France and the Soviet Union throughout their histories, and Germany and Japan during WW2, as classic perpetrators of state terror and claimed that more often than not, it is the state that casts the first stone and that non-state terror is invariably a last resort response by an underclass, driven to extreme frustration by the intransigence of the state”.

Oppression of the Tamil people by the LTTE

So also the oppression of the Tamil people by the LTTE. Adrian pointed out that recourse to repression has been a feature of every liberation struggle in history, whether class-based or nationalistic. He believed that when Tamil Eelam is achieved, the Tamil people freed and Tamil society stabilised, the need for repression will disappear, as will the culture of violence. Once again, putting the full weight of his knowledge of history to back this up, he cited the oppression of civilians in liberation struggles in Kenya, Algeria, Cyprus and Ireland. It is this historical perspective that has been lost with the death of Adrian Wijemanne. That is why he is irreplaceable.


Genocide is defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide , as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The Government of Sri Lanka is a signatory to this international Convention. Genocide has nothing to do with numbers killed, it is the intention and the act(s) to achieve this intention.

The question of Genocide of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka was raised in 1983, when 3,000 Tamil civilians in Colombo were massacred for no reason other than that they were Tamils. Since then there have been several Tamil killings of a genocidal nature. These have escalated in the past few months.

There are several ways to achieve genocide - it can be murder, starvation, the withholding of essential medicines, the prevention of any activity that enables people to live, etc. Once the intention is there, the methods that can be adopted to achieve the desired goal are endless.

I am introducing a new concept of different types of genocide - ‘Educational genocide’, ‘cultural genocide’, ‘economic genocide’, which I define as the intention, backed by the act, of “destroying in whole or part the education, culture or economy of a national, ethnic, racial or geographic group”. The GOSL is guilty of all these.

As I have said at the beginning of this article, what I said on genocide and the serious violations of Human Rights that are currently escalating, will be transferred to the publication of the talk in Sydney inaugurating the new group “Australians for Human Rights.’ Here I will do no more than briefly list out the headings.

a) Genocide by murder and massacres b) Genocide by starvation. Blocking the food supply to Jaffna and preventing agriculture by declaring the best agricultural lands as "High Security Zones", and seriously interfering with fishing off the NorthEast coasts. c) Genocide by blocking the only aid (medical, refugee, housing, etc) available to the Tamils in the NorthEast. The murder of International NGOs and the freezing of Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation funds. d) Economic genocide by the destruction of all economic activity of the Tamils in the North and abduction of Tamil businessmen in the North and South.. e) Educational genocide by the destruction of education of Tamils in the North. f) Cultural genocide by the deprivation of education and the destruction, not once, but twice, of the Jaffna Public Library.

Stopping the outside world from knowing what is going on in the Tamil areas.

a) Effective media censorship in Colombo – the Patriotic Act to come shortly, which will completely block news, except 'news' released by the GOSL. b) Killing of Tamil politicians who are articulate e.g. Joseph Pararajasingham. c) Killing Tamil journalists. d) Smashing Tamil newspaper offices – both in Colombo and in Jaffna.

The Bombing of Kilinochchi

Bombing by the GOSL of the administrative centre of Tamil Vanni (i.e. Kilinochchi) may result in retaliatory attacks on the administrative centre of the Sinhalese South (Colombo). If this happens, the GOSL cannot complain, it is a problem of its own making.


I will deal with this in some detail in my address at the Sangam AGM in New York in mid October 2006, and in other addresses in Canada over the next six weeks which will be published on the net.

There is a solution to the problem in Sri Lanka, as there is to every conflict in the many theatres of war currently in full-swing across the world. Attempting to militarily crush a people is not an answer; it will not provide a solution – indeed it will increase the resolve of the oppressed. History is replete with examples.

In Sri Lanka, a solution must involve dismantling a British colonial construct that has clearly failed. The solution must involve freeing the Tamil people from Sinhalese domination and by taking the keys for development out of Sinhalese hands and putting them in the hands of those in the developmentally neglected Tamil NorthEast.

It is this absolute need to separate the Tamil nation from the Sinhalese nation which is the only way to ensure development of both nations, that Adrian has stressed in innumerable articles. Again, using the unmatched power of his knowledge of history, he has given example after example of liberation movements in the last century, succeeding in establishing the liberation of their people despite overwhelming military and manpower superiority of the State being challenged.

The Tamils will have a Separate Tamil State (and the Sinhalese a Separate Sinhalese State). The GOSL can delay this at the cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. They can delay it, but in no way alter the result. Adrian explains the well-known truism that "history repeats itself". Concluding his exceptionally brilliant address to the International Tamil Foundation in June 1994:-

"I will conclude by saying that history does not repeat itself in any mechanical or predetermined manner. It only points the way in which mankind deals with similar problems in widely differing contexts. In the case of nationalist guerrilla wars of secession the finger of history points unmistakably to only one direction from which peace has, and can come – separation into two states".

What can we do?

What can we, in the international community do? I have set this out in detail in the Souvenir to be released at the Sangam AGM on 16 October 2006 after which it will be on the net. In essence, it will be to:-

1. Pressure the GOSL to come up with an offer that

a) Addresses the problems faced by the Tamil people b) Addresses the problem of the development of the Tamil areas

2. Recognise and address the serious violations of Human Rights by the SL Armed Forces and the Government which has signed the UN Human Rights Convention thereby giving an international undertaking to protect the human rights of all its citizens, including the Tamils.

Undertakings by me

I will give three undertakings, one at the request of Adrian.

1. To continue to challenge the right of the Sinhalese regime to oppress the Tamil people and deny them the right to exist with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth, and to deny them the right to develop the much-neglected area they live in. If that makes me a 'Tamil Tiger Terrorist' or a Sinhalese 'traitor', so be it. So was labelled a much more illustrious son of Sri Lanka whom we honour today.

2. To collect and publish all the writings of Adrian Wijemanne and, if possible, get them translated into Sinhala so that the seriously misled Sinhalese people can see that there are alternatives to war which will actually benefit them as much as the Tamils.

3. To try and organise an annual "Adrian Wijemanne Oration" for people of honesty, decency, integrity and vision, (I'd even add 'patriotism'), to talk the sort of sense that Adrian has talked and published with such conviction and zeal.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [1] Presented on 17 September 2006, at St John’s Church Hall, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia.

[2] That is why Adrian, in his book, refers to “Sri Lanka” as “Ceylon”.

[3] Governor of Ceylon (1831-1837), inaugurated Ceylon's First Legislative Council and Executive Committee (1833), abolished compulsory labour - removing the British Government’s claim to a free service, abolished the government's monopoly of the cinnamon trade (1833), started the first newspaper (Colombo Journal) 1832., the first mail coach in Asia, the passenger and postal service to Kandy (earlier carriage was by palanquin and bullock carts), the first Government school ‘The Colombo Academy’, the Ceylon Savings Bank, and the Colombo Cricket Club (1832).

[4] A glance at the 1978 Constitution of President J.R.Jayawardene should dispel any doubts. He set himself above Parliament and the Judiciary, MPs had to hand him undated letters of resignation.

Source: Brian Senewiratne, MA MD FRCP FRACP, Brisbane, Australia.
Date: 28 September 2006

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