Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sangam Grieves Loss of Fr. Karunaratnam

Fr. Karunaratnam was the Guest of Honor at the Sangam's Annual General Meeting in November, 2004 shortly after the founding of the NorthEast Secretariat for Human Rights (NESoHR) in Kilinochchi under his directorship...

Under Fr. Karunaratnam's leadership, the organization worked to bring attention to ongoing human rights abuses and to record past human rights abuses which had not been documented. Fr. Karunaratnam's particular passion was educating the local population about their human rights...

About a year ago, when discussing the return to war and the danger of continuing to work in the Vanni, Fr. Karunaratnam said that the only danger which he was concerned about was the risk of mines planted by the DPU.

Father M. X. Karunaratnam was killed by a claymore mine detonated in a targeted attack by the Sri Lankan Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, also known as the Deep Penetration Unit on Sunday, April 20, 2008.

Rev. Fr. M. X. Karunaratnam November 2004Fr. Karunaratnam was the Guest of Honor at the Sangam's Annual General Meeting in November, 2004 shortly after the founding of the NorthEast Secretariat for Human Rights (NESoHR) in Kilinochchi under his directorship. NESoHR was organized by 10 leading citizens of the Tamil community as the only local, independent human rights monitoring body in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka.

Under Fr. Karunaratnam's leadership, the organization worked to bring attention to ongoing human rights abuses and to record past human rights abuses which had not been documented. Fr. Karunaratnam's particular passion was educating the local population about their human rights. He spent considerable time working with individuals when their rights were not being respected to ameliorate the situation. This often meant serving as an intermediary between the poor and powerless and those in authority either at the local level, in Colombo or in Kilinochchi. For this reason, among others, he was a well-loved and respected figure.

NESoHR worked on a shoe-string with the barest minimum of support from two local institutions and the dedicated attention of its founders. Fr. Karunaratnam was especially interested in making sure that the Secretariat was not beholden to any other body. Three of NESoHR's founders have now been killed for their efforts on behalf of the rights of Tamils.

Just before Fr. Karunaratnam's visit to the US in 2004, he had had a serious car accident that broke his hip. He was cared for in Jaffna and then Colombo and barely survived with his ability to walk. He tried not to let this distract him from his duties.

Fr. Karunaratnam was born on the Jaffna peninsula and started work as a bank officer, later attending Jaffna Seminary. He worked as a parish priest in Mallavi from 1996-2002 and headed the Vanni Citizens Committee. From 1999-2002 he also was president of the NGO Consortium in Kilinochchi. Following the ceasefire, he worked to set up NESoHR, which he chaired, along with duties as a parish priest in the Jaffna Diocese.

Fr. Karunaratnam was able to serve as the Sangam's chief guest at our AGM because he had been invited by the Swiss government to meet members of the UN Human Rights Commission and other UN human rights bodies in Geneva.

About a year ago, when discussing the return to war and the danger of continuing to work in the Vanni, Fr. Karunaratnam said that the only danger which he was concerned about was the risk of mines planted by the DPU.