By Rauff Hakeem –
Ladies and Gentleman:
I am privileged to introduce a distinguished international lawyer and scholar Dr Francis Gurry to deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture. Dr Gurry is Director General, World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The author of numerous publications on intellectual property rights, he was formerly a practicing attorney in Australia with a law degree from the University of Melbourne and a PhD from the University of Cambridge.
In this occasion, we recall and rekindle the memories of Lakshman Kadirgamar- a man who appealed to the consciences of the world that had forgotten that freedom from fear was the most fundamental of all human rights. Today, we celebrate his life’s work in the afterglow of the defeat of terrorism, not quite certain as to what he would think of how we are winning the peace. The absence of Lakshman Kadirgamar in post-war, politics of our island is a tragedy for the majority and a disaster for the minorities. I say so in the most emphatic terms because he is on record as to why he who belonged to a minority community entered politics in that most tortuous period of our history.
In 1996, he told parliament why he entered politics. “I am here only to do one thing, and that is to help my country as best as I can to solve the gravest problem of our time and if I can make a miniscule contribution towards that effort, that will be enough for me till the end of my days. I seek nothing else.” Having said that, he went further: “Our approach to our national problem must surely be bipartisan because the task ahead of us is one of immense magnitude and of utmost gravity and under those circumstances, you will never find that I will run away under fire”.
We owe it to the memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar to acknowledge that he was a leader who saw the national problem and (quote unquote) “the evil scourge of terrorism” in contextual clarity. We need that clarity today more than ever.
In 1997, he described his vision for the future. “A durable solution to this problem will not come from force of arms alone. It will not come from conquest or our vanquishing the LTTE. It has to come by the acceptance of the people in their entirety, by the Sinhala and the Tamil people. That is a political settlement, and a political settlement that is perceived by the communities, by the majority and minorities, to be fair and just. It must be a settlement enshrined in law, and it must be enshrined in the hearts of people.”
Lakshman Kadirgamar was a visionary who redefined the international conversation on Terrorism. When he set out on that courageous journey, ‘to persuade the world that his motherland was in a fierce struggle to combat that most pernicious form of politics – that of using unbridled terror as a form of negotiation,’ his, was indeed a lonely voice. That was a time when 9/11 and the warped logic of terrorism was yet to reach New York, the host city of the United Nations. Lakshman Kadirgamar was disarmingly candid when he described himself as the International face of an island-nation that was then known for its Tea, Tourism and Terrorism. It is Lakshman Kadirgamar who initiated the international alliance of democratic states to combat terrorism so that in his own words ‘there will be no succor, no solace , no safe haven, no place to hide, no place to run for the terrorists of the world because all of us, the democratic states, will stand together and fight together.”
In the book Democracy, Sovereignty and Terror, a volume with the life work of Lakshman Kadirgamar, so aptly captured on its sub title on the front cover, are the words, “Lakshman Kadirgamar on the Foundation of International Order”. He despaired at the predicament of democratic states that were challenged by internal conflicts that encouraged a ruthless few to hold a tolerant majority hostage to their commitment to traditions of tolerance, openness and dissent.
As Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs he made the world realize, I use here his own words, that ‘An internal armed challenge to any state anywhere is a challenge to all states everywhere’.
The book edited by Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy, is the most enduring tribute to the man whose life work is celebrated today with an oration by Dr Francis Gurry who will no doubt enlighten us more about Lakshman the Scholar-Jurist who spent a good part of his professional career in promoting human creativity and innovation through an international protocol on intellectual property.
When he set out on that courageous journey ‘to persuade the world that the country he represented as Minister of Foreign Affairs was in a fierce struggle to combat that most pernicious form of politics – that of using unbridled terror as a form of negotiation,’ he was fully aware of the enormity of the task ahead and the fate that awaited him.
I recall his almost prophetic words in one of his dazzling parliamentary performances in 1996, almost a decade before he was slain by the assassin’s bullet. Speaking in the now famous Tawakkal debate he said ‘I do not fear the bullets and the bombs aimed at me. I will have to carry this burden to the end of my days, long after I cease to hold office. That does not frighten me, does not bother me.”
I am reminded of the poignant words of Dag Hammarskjold another great International figure who paid the supreme price for his beliefs. “In the last analysis, it is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us.” This is what placed Lakshman apart from mere mortals like us. In defining death in his own terms he defined the purpose of his life.
*Speech delivered by Rauff Hakeem, Minister of Justice in Sri Lanka for the “Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Oration 2013” held on the 6th November, 2013 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.