Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Wonderful Political Figure from Sri Lanka delivering a speech at an event
Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Wonderful Political Figure from Sri Lanka!

Of course, the magical paradise of Sri Lanka is a wonderful tourist attraction. Apart from that, it is no secret that some of the eminent personalities from Sri Lanka took the good name of this country worldwide. And among them, the greatest politicians such as Lakshman Kadirgamar are indeed significant highlights. Thus, we thought of dedicating this read to this wonderful icon of Sri Lankan politics, Lakshman Kadirgamar.

So, without further exaggerations, let us look deeper into Lakshman Kadirgamar’s exemplary life and get to know about his views on politics and international relations, with much information about his life and career!

Who is Lakshman Kadirgamar?

In brief, Lakshman Kadirgamar was a lawyer of the late 1900s and early 2000s in Sri Lanka. He served as the Minister for the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1994-2001 and from April 2004 to August 2005.

Since he was an expert in commercial, industry, labor, property, and International Law, he could earn several titles and act accordingly. Besides, his name became an icon owing to his commendable work as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He earned international prominence in this position due to his widely-ranged condemnation of the LTTE and his impeccable efforts to ban them internationally. This opposing nature, though, put his life in danger and eventually consigned his life to the vengeance of their boiling blood. However, he continued his service until he got assassinated by an unfortunate sniper shot. His assassination, indeed, made a huge loss of a distinguished lawyer and international humanitarian to Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, he has led an honorary, yet exemplary lifestyle from his early life to his career until his untimely death. 

Early Life of Lakshman Kadirgamar

The origin of Lakshman Kadirgamar is Manipay in Jaffna District. Yet, he was born in Colombo on 12th April 1932 as a node of a prestigious Tamil family. His father was the well-known Ceylonese proctor, Samuel J C Kadirgamar. He was not just a proctor but the President of the Colombo Proctors’ association and the founder of the Law Society of Ceylon. His mother was Edith Rosemand Parlimaam Mather.

He was the sixth child of this couple. He had four well-reputed older brothers namely, S J C Kadirgamar, Rear Admiral Rajan Kadirgamar, Major Selvanathan “Bai ” Kadirgamar and Thirumalan Mana Kadirgamar. They were respectively an eminent lawyer in commercial law, the head of the Royal Ceylon Navy, a Major in the Ceylon Artillery, and a planter who died young from a motorbike accident. Also, he had an older sister named Eeswari, who got the responsibility of his upbringing when his mother died at seven. 

Indeed, this reputed family and his familial environment have played a prominent role in his late successes. 

Education of Lakshman Kadirgamar

Lakshman Kadiragamar was an intelligent, active as well as scoring student starting from his school to his college. Besides, he was an all-rounder. The following sections will further prove this fact to you.

School Education

Kadirgamar obtained his primary education at C.W.S Ladies College, Colombo. However, he later moved to Matale with his sister as his sister’s husband, who was a doctor in occupation, got a transfer to Matale. Then he received his secondary education at Kandy, particularly, at Trinity College as a boarder.

Kadiragamar was a dashing young student there. Moreover, he excelled not only in academics but in a wider range of sports as well. He showed equal outstanding performances in all three areas, cricket, rugby, and athletics. Further, he played for the annual Bradby Shield Encounter as well. 

His sports achievements;
  • 1948 – The Senior Batting Prize
  • A Rugger Colours Men
  • Winner of the first Duncan White challenge Cup for Athletics
  • 1949 – The Trinity Athletics Lion
  • 1950 – Captained the first eleven cricket team

He was also lucky enough to attain the Senior Prefect position at Trinity College. Also, since he was an all-rounder in academics and extracurricular activities during his school career he got several awards. Among them, the Ryde Gold Medal entitled the best all-rounder student of 1950 is simply a significant highlight.  

Higher Education 

In 1950 enrolling at the University of Ceylon in Colombo he started studying law. And then in the preceding year, he entered the University of Peradeniya and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB)  (Honors) degree in 1953.

Although he started his higher education career, he never dared to stop his sports career. As a result, he held the title of the All India Inter-University 110-metre hurdles title twice in both 1951 and 1952. 

Afterward, he was able to pass the Advocate Intermediate Examination of the Ceylon Law College with a first-class in 1953. Then, in the following year, he was able to get a scholarship for gaining a First Class at the advocates’ Final examination of the Ceylon Law College as well.

Following that, he received the award prizes for the Law of Evidence and the Law of Persons and Property. Achieving all these flying colors, in 1955 he took oaths as Advocate of the Supreme Court of Ceylon. Aftermath, he offered his service as a private secretary to Justice Noel Gratien, Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court.

Later, receiving a scholarship, he entered Balliol College of the University of Oxford and pursued his graduate studies from 1956 to 1959. There he obtained a Bachelor of Letters (B.Litt.) completing the thesis on “Strict liability in English and Roman-Dutch Law” in 1960. He became the second Sri Lankan, succeeding Lalith Athulathmudali, to be the president of the Oxford Union as well. Also continuing his sports life, he played cricket in the Balliol College team.

Careers of Kadirgamar

After completing all his educational requirements, Kadirgamar pursued legal practice in both the UK and Sri Lanka. Later, he entered into politics not by his choice but by the choice of people.

Legal Career

After leaving Oxford, he returned to Ceylon and started his legal career. As the initial step, he initiated the practice in commercial, industrial, and administrative law. In 1962, he took part in the coup d’étata as a member of the defense team of the accused. In the next year, Amnesty International commissioned him to investigate a Buddhist-led resistance campaign. 

Following the JVP resurrection, in 1971, he moved to London after working with the Ceylon legal system for more than five years. Working with several International organizations in Geneva, he practiced in London for three years. His legal service in London is as follows;

  • 1976 – A consultant for International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • 1976 – World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
  • 1983 – Director of Asia And Pacific of WIPO
  • Author of international legal journals such as the Modern Law Review, South African Law Journal, and Conveyancer and Property Lawyer
  • Director, Industrial Property Division and Director, Development Cooperation and External Relations Bureau for Asia and the Pacific at WIPO
  • Deputy Director-General of WIPO

After practicing legal activities and doing immense contributions to these organizations he resigned in May 1988. In the same year, he returned to his motherland and continued his legal career. Eventually, he got an appointment to the President’s Counsel in 1991.

Political Career 

Without prior experience, Kadirgamar entered the political field upon the choice of people. In fact, he stepped into politics through the 1994 national list of the People’s Alliance(PA) party for the general elections. With PA acquiring the victory, he became the Foreign Minister in the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Contributing much towards banning LTTE internationally, he held the post until 2001. He was successful in his attempt as the USA and UK forbade the LTTE in October 1997 and February 2001 respectively. 

Highly respected in his role of foreign minister he followed the below positions later on;

  • Vice-chairman (1997–1999)  and later chairman (2003–2005) of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). 
  • Chair of the Council of Ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)(1998–2001). 
  • Chair of the South Asia Foundation (SAF)

After the government’s defeat in 2001, he became a special adviser on foreign affairs to President Kumaratunga. He critically attempted to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers insurgents in northern Sri Lanka. He concluded the Ceasefire Agreement on 22 February 2002 between the government and the Tamil Tigers. 

Then on 20 November 2003, Kadirgamar assumed duties as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. Then in 2004, following the victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance, in Sri Lankan legislative elections he was mentioned as a possible candidate for Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. But President Kumaratunga appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa to the post, and he became the Foreign Minister again in the new cabinet.

Also, Kadirgamar was able to maintain a good relationship with several foreign countries. He issued an academic journal called International Relations in a Globalizing World prior to his untimely death. It was a key part of his long-term plan to make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s international diplomacy.

Personal Life of Lakshman Kadirgamar

Kadiragamar married Angela Malik, of French-Pakistani descent when he was in Oxford in his early 20s. They had two children from this marriage, a son, and a daughter. They were Ajitha Perera and Sriraghanan Jeberatnam “Ragee” Kadirgamar. Without following their father’s footsteps, they followed their careers separately being a broadcaster and an architect respectively. Later, divorcing his first wife, he did his second marriage with Sugantho Wijesuriya, a lawyer and senior partner at a law firm.

His Views

As a common person who followed religions he had bizarre respect towards all the religions;

  • Being a Christian, he pioneered in bringing the proposal to the UN General Assembly to make Vesak Day an international celebration day.
  • He emphasized common features of all great-belief systems.

As a political icon, he regards all people as one nation. That was indeed a significant quality of him that many loved.

Death of Lakshman Kadirgamar

This tragedy took place on 12th August 2005. Kadirgamar was shot by an LTTE sniper in Colombo when he was getting out of the swimming pool at his private residence in Cinnamon Gardens. The reports indicated that he had two shots in the head, one in the neck, and one in the body. After getting to the Colombo National Hospital he was pronounced dead. 

It was widely believed that his death was a result of an LTTE assassination due to Kadirgamar’s primary actions on banning them. But the organization denied the accusation saying that what he had done was done and they would not risk the cease-fire agreement by implementing such an act. 

However, they arrested two Tamils as suspects upon the death of Kadirgamar, yet had to release them after finding no evidence after two years of custody (According to Asian Tribune). So, the death of this prestigious character remained unsolved up until today.

Further, the powerful international countries such as India, the US, Australia, and Norway also paid their heartiest condolences declaring that it was an atrocious, sensuous crime and tragedy to Sri Lanka. Even the UN paid tribute to Kadirgamar reminiscing his role in bringing forward the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Hence, the death of this distinguished leader is, in a way, a huge loss to the whole world.

Honors and Awards Lakshman Kadirgamar Received

He was rewarded many times in his life for his commendable service to the country. Some of them are as follows.

  • 1995 – Honorary Master of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London.
  • 2001 – Honorary D’Litt at the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka
  • 2004 – Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, University of Oxford.
  • The Government of Sri Lanka posthumously awarded him its highest national honor Sri Lankabhimanya.

Legacy of Lakshman Kadirgamar

Kadirgamar is considered one of the most successful and active foreign ministers Sri Lanka has ever had. His efforts of changing international opinion on Sri Lanka and the LTTE were certainly reasons for him to gain this honor. His attempts in listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization made an immense contribution to its ultimate defeat in 2009. Besides, recognizing much-needed significant changes within Sri Lanka to create a nation that lives together peacefully was a great part of his legacy.

However, to pay tribute to his forever remaining legacy, the following steps took place.

  • Establishing the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, a think tank on international affairs. It was a creation in his memory a year after his assassination. 
  • Erecting a statue of Kadirgamar at the Liberty roundabout in Colombo.
  • Establishing, in 2013, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Fund with the aim of assisting students from Asia at Balliol College.

The Bottom Line

Lakshman Kadirgamar (1932 – 2005), the true son of the mother Sri Lanka, has marked his name as an icon in the recent political history of this country. The Sri Lankans still chant his name due to the remarkable contribution he has made to the betterment of this small but valuable island and its inhabitants. It has indeed been 6 years since we lost Sri Lanka’s best-known and widely admired foreign affairs minister. Yet, it is his efforts to ban LTTE both locally and internationally that contributed to the peaceful lifestyles we lead in the current context. It is his first steps that lead us to celebrate the ecstasy of freedom. Thus, he is surely a legend that forever lives in the hearts of Sri Lankans.