Sri Lankan rights campaigner Jayalath Jayawardena dies

Jayalath Jayawardena Jayalath Jayawardena infuriated both Sinhala nationalists and the Tamil Tigers

Related Stories

Prominent Sri Lankan human rights campaigner and parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardena has died aged 59 in hospital in Singapore, medical officials say.

He had a recent history of heart disease.

Dr Jayawardena was a stalwart of the main opposition United National Party and widely admired for his rights work.

He featured in Guinness World Records for hosting a long-running television show answering medical queries.

After serving as personal physician to President Ranasinghe Premadasa from 1989-93, Dr Jayawardena was elected to parliament in 1994.

'Suffering in silence'

Interviewed in 2011 in the Sri Lankan magazine Business Today he said that in the mid 1990s he decided to travel independently to areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels to extend medical help, as the region was suffering under an economic embargo.

"I thought I should draw attention to the people who were suffering in silence and who were helpless," he said.

"I do not believe in discrimination according to caste, creed, religion or politics. So I opted to go to those areas, of course risking my life."

He brought scarce drugs and sterile medical equipment which helped prevent tetanus and delivered babies in basic conditions, he recalled.

The Tamil Tigers labelled him as a spy, while his life and that of his family became - he said - "highly vulnerable at the hands of Sinhala extremists".

From 2002 to 2004, during a ceasefire which later failed, he served as minister of rehabilitation and resettlement under the then United National Party government.

Later, he raised Sri Lankan human rights problems at a variety of international forums - one of the few politicians from the two major parties to regularly do so.

In 2010, ministers and MPs of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government surrounded Dr Jayawardena in parliament, hurling abuse at him, grabbing him by the collar and calling him a "traitor".

They accused him of inciting protests in Britain against the Sri Lankan government, something he strongly denied.

In a BBC interview last year he voiced concern at a spate of abductions and disappearances.

"There is no rule of law in this country and jungle law is prevailing," he said.

He said the people of the former war zone in the north and east were "living in fear" because of the heavy military presence there.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • Martin Gardner as a young manThink hard

    Was this man the world's greatest puzzle master?


  • Carved pumpkinTrick or treat

    What did a riot at a pumpkin festival show about race in US?


  • A woman puts on a surgical mask during hospital Ebola training in Alabama.'Dark continent'

    Is prejudice fuelling Ebola outbreak hysteria in the US?


  • Oscar de la Renta and Oprah WinfreyIn pictures

    The life and work of Oscar de la Renta


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • FutureThe future is now

    Get the latest updates and biggest ideas from BBC Future’s World-Changing Ideas Summit

Programmes

  • Smart glassesClick Watch

    Smart spectacles go into battle – the prototypes looking to take on Google Glass

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.