Noted lawyer and Sri Lankan human rights activist Sithie Tiruchelvam, wife of the internationally respected academic Neelan Tiruchelvan, passed away here on Saturday after a brief illness.
She was 69.
Ms. Tiruchelvam, along with Neelan Tiruchelvam — one of the foremost, erudite activists of Sri Lanka who worked on a devolution package and championed the political rights of Tamils — is known for her deep engagement with the cause of social justice and peace.
In addition to collaborating with him at Tiruchelvam Associates, a leading Colombo-based law firm that they established together, Ms. Tiruchelvam contributed significantly to the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Law and Society Trust. The institutions are highly regarded research and policy organisations founded by Tiruchelvam, who served the Sri Lankan parliament in the 1990s representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), before he was assassinated by the LTTE in 1999.
Friends and colleagues fondly remember Ms. Tiruchelvam as one of the most committed rights activists who passionately created a space for interaction of intellectuals not just from Sri Lanka, but from all over the world. “Their living room was open to everyone,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General, and close friend of Sithie. “She provided an intellectual space for people from all ethnic groups. She would go the extra mile to help someone.”
Terming her death a big loss to the legal fraternity and to human rights activism, Jayantha Dhanapala, member of the Friday Forum, a prominent Colombo-based civil society organisation, said “Sri Lanka cannot afford to lose people like her.”
Ms. Tiruchelvam was on the board of several leading companies in Sri Lanka. In addition to law and human rights, she was deeply interested in literature and arts. She also mentored young lawyers and activists, giving them a solid grounding in politics and contemporary social issues. Friends observed that her efforts in running the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, set up after the assassination of her husband, were remarkable in carrying forward his intellectual legacy.