It is with deep sadness that we, at Together Against Genocide (TAG) remember Joseph Pararajasingham, who was assassinated in Sri Lanka 10 years ago today while attending Christmas Mass at St Mary’s church in Batticaloa town.
Mr. Pararajasingham was 71 years old at the time he was assassinated. In addition to being the Member of Parliament for Batticaloa, a seat he had contested as part of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), he was a founding member of the North East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESOHR).
In a country that enshrines Buddhism, the religion of the majority ethnic group (the Sinhala), as the foremost religion in its constitution, to be explicitly protected and fostered by the state and where the places of worship of all non-majority religions have been systemically attacked, this assassination was also of religious significance. This attack on a christian place of worship, while an internationally mediated ceasefire was in place, was intended to signify that no safe haven would be found for Tamils, even in places of worship.
In September 2015, the report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Investigation into Srilanka (OISL) gave detailed consideration to the circumstances of Mr Pararajasingham's assassination. The OISL report states “OISL considers that, based on the information obtained, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Karuna Group killed Joseph Pararajasingham, and that it was aided and abetted by security and army personnel.” The OISL report noted that “The assailants exited the church unchallenged,despite the fact that it was under police guard, and allegedly departed in a white van in the direction of a nearby army camp. Joseph Pararajasingham had declined to support Karuna after his split from the LTTE and had previously been threatened by members of the Karuna group. Family members of the victim suffered further threats after the attack and fled the country.”
The OISL report situates the assassination of Mr Pararajasingham in the wider context of a pattern of unlawful killings during the period mandated for investigation by the UN Human Rights Council (2002-2011).
The 2006 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions refers to “the most credible estimates” of the number of political killings to be over 300 in 2005 alone,
and noted that almost none of these killings had been effectively investigated and “remarkably few” resulted in convictions.
While the OISL was unable to provide estimates of the total number of extrajudicial executions in the period of its investigation, it cites that “there were more than one thousand cases of alleged assassinations reported to the SLMM during its operation in Sri Lanka between 2002 and early 2008
As to the identity of the perpetrators the OISL report says: “Unlawful killings by Government security forces, including police, SLA and SLN, as well as by the LTTE predate the period under review and persisted until 2009 and beyond, with some alleged killings perpetrated by security forces continuing after the conflict
The OISL identifies key categories of victims: politicians as well as LTTE political wing cadres, humanitarian workers, journalists, muslims and other civilians. These killings constitute “a disturbing pattern of violations of the rights to life that continued with almost complete impunity
” said the OISL.
Together Against Genocide (TAG) has long argued that the Sri Lankan state strategy over many decades of ‘decapitating’ the Tamil political leadership through assassinations, combined with its systemic attacks, also via assassinations and disappearances on Tamil human rights and aid organisations and Tamil media institutions and their staff constitute genocide as originally conceived by Rahpael Lemkin in his ground-breaking study of Axis rule in Europe.
To recap, Lemkin said, “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation.. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups..”
Thus we commemorate the assassination of Mr Pararajasingham, on Christmas Eve 2005, reminding us once again of the Sri Lankan state’s systemic assault on its ethnic Tamil community and their political, humanitarian and other national spaces.
 E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5, Op.cit.