Assassination of a Human rights defender

Kumar Ponnambalam

(TCHR Report 2001)


Government sponsored killers




5th January 2000 was a nightmare to every peace-loving citizen of this world. It was the day when yet another barbaric act was committed by the government of Sri Lanka.


Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam Jnr. - known to everyone as Kumar Ponnambalam was assassinated by Sri Lankan government-sponsored killers. At 10.00am on 5th January he was shot dead in cold blood in Wellawatta-Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Mr. Ponnambalam, living in Colombo, had courageously presented internationally - the deteriorating human rights situation, which is far from improving in Sri Lanka. For several years, he spoke on these matters in international arenas, such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights - Geneva-Switzerland, Council of Europe - Strasbourg-France, European Parliament - Brussels-Belgium, Royal Institute of International Affairs - London, United Kingdom. Also he delivered speeches in many seminars and conferences in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and USA.

A year has now passed and there has been no development at all in the investigation of this assassination, despite many clues. It was masterminded and carried out by government sponsored killers, whom the government is systematically protecting.


Sri Lanka is called a SOCIALIST, DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC-yet could neither find the culprit nor investigate the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam, which took place in broad daylight in the capital, Colombo. Several news items indicate proof that the government has covered up this incident. (Excerpts)


United Nations raised concern


1 - Concerns were raised promptly by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (Report No. E/CN.4/2000/61 -21 February 2000).


2 - On 15 August 2000, during the 52nd session of the UN Sub Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights, a Member and an Expert Mr. Louis Joinet, raised his concern in a speech made about Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam. Mr. Louis Joinet said, "I met Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam here in the United Nations during a previous session. He had told me personally of his fears due to the fact that he had been verbally threatened and certain media had written attacks against him. Immediately, I had made an appointment with the Ambassador of Sri Lanka, whom I met in this building. I talked the matter over with him, bringing to his notice these threats to Mr. Ponnambalam. Mr. Ponnambalam's fears proved to be right and he is no more alive!".


Key witness tortured !


According to a letter written by Attorney-at-Law, and Member of Parliament, Mr Appathuray Vinayagamoorthy on 19 February, a key witness in connection with the assassination of Mr Kumar Ponnambalam on 5 January 2000, was arrested and tortured.


Mr Siva was arrested in mid-January by the CDB and severely tortured. His distressed family contacted the family of the late Mr Kumar Ponnambalam. Later Mr Vinayagamoorthy intervened to secure the release of the innocent witness.


On 3 July 2000, witnesses were forced to demand that suspects in an identification parade open their mouths to expose their teeth - they had been instructed to choose the person with malformed teeth!! The incident was well-publicised in the Colombo media and proved that the investigations into Kumar's assassination were manipulated and attempts were made to mislead the witnesses.


The recent arrest and torture of the key witness, Mr Siva, clearly indicate an attempt to cover-up the assassination of Kumar in yet another way, and to confuse matters even more. There are strong clues in the case - but nothing has been done to properly investigate them yet.


Attorney at law of the family of the late Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam


15, Siripa Lane,

Colombo 5  


The Hon. Attorney General

Colombo 12


Dear Sir,


Along with Mr. A. M. B. Kiribanda, Attorney at law and instructed by Mr. Ravi Matugama, Attorney at law, I write on behalf of the family of the late Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam.


The investigation into the killing of Mr. Ponnambalam, which took place in January 2000, had been placed in charge of Mr. Bandula Wickremasinghe, Senior Superintendent of Police and head of the CDB. This letter is to request you to direct that Mr. Wickremasinghe be removed from having anything to do with this investigation and that an impartial police officer be placed in charge of it. The reasons for this unusual application are as follows.


Mr. Bandula Wickremasinghe is a police officer who has been fined a sum of Rs. 50,000 personal on him on account of his illegal arrest of Mr. Mahanama Tillekeratne, High Court Judge. Additionally, his conduct was such that Their Lordships Court are holding proceedings to deal with him for contempt of Court. Further his conduct vis-à-vis this investigation shows that his sole objective appears to be exonerate the Government of any complicity in the killing of Mr. Ponnambalam at whatever cost.


A day after the killing of Mr. Ponnambalam, Mr. Wickremasinghe called Mrs. Ponnambalam and in the course of his conversation with her, has asked her whom she suspects. Assuming him to be impartial - a wholly erroneous impression - Mrs. Ponnambalam had told him that in view of the attacks on the government by Mr. Ponnambalam, she suspected that the killing was done by a government official at the instigation of a very high personage. Mr. Wickremasinghe who had not yet started to investigate this case, immediately scoffed at it and said that this government would not do such a thing and that the EPDP was behind it.


From time to time, he rang up members of the family and attempted to justify his theory and on one occasion even went to the extent of saying that two people were seen there wearing jeans which were similar to those worn by the 'boys', suggesting thereby that the LTTE may have had a hand in it. Meanwhile, various persons were arrested from time to time and witness Thomas and Siva were taken and shown the suspects and shown photographs of further suspects. None of them, however, were identified.


Mrs. Ponnambalam and her family went abroad and were away for about six weeks and returned on the 21st of April. A day or two later, the family was informed by Mr. Wickremasinghe that investigations were over and that the LTTE were definitely behind it. This was refuted completely by the Ponnambalam family as the leader of the LTTE had conferred a title on him equivalent to being a 'great, great man' - hardly the conduct of assassins of Mr. Ponnambalam.


On the 15th of June, Mr. Wickremasinghe who seems to specialise in press interviews - informed the press that there was a call from a RPC who claimed that he was responsible for the killing of Mr. Ponnambalam and that he had utilised the services of one Moratuva Saman and Sankeewa. At this briefing, Mr. Wickremasinghe revealed - and that was highly improper and totally unfair by Moratuva Saman and Sanjeewa - that they made confessions and that a pistol was recovered under Section 27 of the Evidence Ordinance. What kind of justice could be meted out to these two persons as this has already been publicised.


Further, on the 3rd of July, there was an identification parade at MC Mt. Laviniya to identify, if possible a suspect said to be Shantha. Mr. Thomas was taken to the CDB where witness Mr. Siva had already been brought. Thereafter, both of them had been told specifically by Mr. Wickremasinghe to ask the people in the parade to expose their teeth as the correct person would have a deformity in the teeth. Fortunately, the witnesses had a better sense of justice than Mr. Wickremasighe and failed to identify any suspect.




Considering the track record of Mr. Wickremasighe coupled with his conviction by  Their Lordships Court on the violation of the fundamental right of Mr. Mahanama Tillekeratne and his subsequent efforts to defend the government, Mr. Ponnambalam's death can never be solved by him.


It is, therefore, submitted that in the interests of justice as far as the late Mr. Ponnambalam is concerned, the CID be detailed to investigate his killing.


                                                                       Yours Faithfully,

                                                                       Daya Perera - President's Counsel


Kumar Ponnambalam defended Sinhalese

Six months after the assassination these are the thoughts I wanted to express at Kumar’s funeral but , I didn’t get an opportunity . I write as a minister of the Christian church, as a member of a peace organisation namely the Sri Lanka Group of the World Solidarity Forum for Justice and Peace in Sri Lanka, and as a member of the Sinhala Community.
I had known Kumar Ponapalam as a friend and a person with whom I had worked in the progressive people’s movement . He was genuinely committed and a loveable person. I first came to know him in the seventies when he readily responded to my request to defend a Sinhala insurgent from a remote village in a murder case. He undertook the case free of charge and won the case. That Sinhala village youth is now a respected member of society.


There were others whom he helped in this way , including one who became an outstanding peasant and human rights organiser. Then we have worked together in the peace movement when he was a member of the World Solidarity Forum. Later our views diverged on the ethnic issues. However I disagreed with him I must acknowledge that he emphasised a point of view , a certain dimension , shall we say , that was seriously distorted and neglected by others. It was a side of things that needed to be emphasised and he stood practically alone in this and in doing so he showed outstanding, amazing courage. It could well be said that he was unbalanced and it was counter -productive but his inflexible courage and single-minded determinations were beyond question.  (An appreciation by Revd. Yohan Devananda - Excerpts from The Island - Wednesday July 5th, 2000)


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