Everything else.. Lakshman Kadirgamar: Diplomat for the Ages

Lakshman Kadirgamar: Diplomat for the Ages

2019 Aug 21


Fourteen years ago this month, a suspected LTTE assassin took the life of Sri Lanka’s best known and fondly admired Foreign Minister — Lakshman Kadirgamar.



A recent media outlet reported that authorities in Germany had arrested a suspect connected to this crime. This news brings into sharp relief the sorry state of accountability in our country. Even after fourteen long years, we have not yet been able to conclusively investigate and prosecute a single offender involved in this ghastly act of terror.


Ever since his brutal assassination in 2005, those of us who have admired Lakshman Kadirgamar have often imagined what Sri Lanka would have been like, had he remained at the helm of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy making. Would we have to go through these same ordeals or would he have steered our island nation through these tricky shark infested waters?


Mr. Kadirgamar’s preference for discreet preventive diplomacy against noisy and reactive approaches did not mean that he was espousing meek diplomacy. His tenure ensured that Sri Lanka articulated its point of view firmly and incisively without indulging in unproductive polemics that could precipitate or aggravate confrontations that are harmful to Sri Lanka’s interests.



Lakshman Kadirgamar was born in Colombo on 12 April 1932. He completed his secondary education at Trinity College, Kandy and then moved into the University of Ceylon Law Faculty where he followed through to continue his studies at the University of Oxford.


The late Foreign Minister was an expert on commercial, industrial, labour, property, and international law. He pursued legal practice both in Sri Lanka and the UK and was appointed to the President’s Counsel in 1991. Along his successful path to an eminent political career, he also served as a Consultant at the International Labour Organization in Geneva, and as Director of the Asia-Pacific region at the World Intellectual Property Organization.


The lawyer, scholar, and statesman began his political career at the age of 62, when he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1994 by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He served in this capacity until 2001 and then again from 2004, until his assassination in 2005. He was also appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation from 1998 to 2001, and as the Chairman of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation from 2003 to 2005.


Lakshman Kadirgamar was posthumously awarded Sri Lanka’s highest honorary title, Sri Lankabhimanya, by the state for his successful contributions.



His tenure of office saw one of the largest contingents of career diplomats serving as Sri Lanka’s envoys. Ironically, the late Kadirgamar’s largely successful efforts to professionalise the Foreign Service came to fruition in the immediate aftermath of his own passing. It happened the following year when demarches by Sri Lanka brought about a regime of EU sanctions on the LTTE leading to it being included in the EU’s list of terrorist organisations – (May 2006). The late Minister, who did so much to make it happen, did not live to see it happen. The task was left to the institution he nurtured.


That, perhaps was the first instance of a Collective of European nations slapping such punitive sanctions on a ‘peace talking’ armed group.However, there were no roadside bill boards advertising ‘diplomatic victory’. There was no triumphalism. Mercifully and thankfully, there were no plane loads of ‘VIPs’ invading European capitals to lobby! It was all done by humble public servants. It was perhaps the most fitting way to pay homage to the LK brand of diplomacy – hard-nosed and sans fanfare.


Ten years since the ending of the armed conflict and fourteen years since that dreadful assassination, Sri Lankan politics seem to be still mired in what the late Minister described as ‘self-induced myopia’. Surveying the current political scene, one is left with the disturbing feeling that ‘the myopia syndrome’ appears to continue to blur our collective vision for a secure and peaceful future.


Four years before his untimely demise, Minister Kadirgamar told Parliament that human rights legislation is “going to outlive all of us” and that “who knows, some of us may need it ourselves one day!”. As it turned out, these were prophetic words indeed!



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