S.L. Gunasekara, fondly called SL was a true gentleman, a man for all seasons and an eternal hero of our battered nation. He was a true patriot who had an abiding love for his motherland and its people. The security, unitary state and territorial integrity of our nation was his foremost concern. He sustained a [...]

Sunday Times 2

S.L. Gunasekera: A patriot par excellence


S.L. Gunasekara, fondly called SL was a true gentleman, a man for all seasons and an eternal hero of our battered nation. He was a true patriot who had an abiding love for his motherland and its people. The security, unitary state and territorial integrity of our nation was his foremost concern. He sustained a fatal fall in late March 2014, climbing down the stairs, carrying his files, coffee and mobile phone and stumbled on his sarong. He sustained a massive brain haemorrhage from which he did not recover despite brain surgery and the best of management. He remained unconscious and died 10 months later on January 8, 2015.

SL. Gunasekera: A courageous man who never minced his words

He was born on July 22, 1943 to a Christian family from Colombo. SL’s father whom he revered was the much respected supreme court judge Edwin Harold Theodore Gunasekara. SL was an outstanding product of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. He showed his prowess as an orator during his school days becoming the leader of the STC debating team and was awarded the Ilangakoon memorial prize for oratory and the prize for the best debater of STC in 1961. He was also the president of the literary union and the coeditor of the school magazine.

He entered Aquinas University College in 1962 where he was the president of the students’ union. He was awarded the Sir Vaithyalingam Duraiswamy challenge cup for oratory in 1963. He obtained the LLB Ceylon (in 1966) and entered the Ceylon Law College in 1967 and became an advocate the same year. At the Law College he won the Hector Jayawardene gold medal for an address to the jury and the Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan gold medal for the best impromptu speech in 1967. He worked as a state counsel for four years and then resigned from the Attorney General’s Department in 1972. Since then he had been practising at the unofficial bar.

S.L Gunasekara has taken a keen interest in the security situation in Sri Lanka. He was an honorary advisor to the government of president J.R. Jayewardene on terrorist affairs from 1985 to 1987. He represented the Government of Sri Lanka at the first round of peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE in Thimpu. At these talks SL was forthright, articulate and uncompromising. As expected these talks ended in failure. He distanced himself from the Jayewardene government in disgust over the Indo-Lanka accord. SL joined Sirimavo Bandaranaika and was appointed as a member of parliament from 1989 to 1994. When the innocent civilians of Kent and Dollar Farms, Kokilai and Narayu were massacred by the LTTE in 1984, he was one of the first to reach these areas with lorry loads of relief goods for the families of the unfortunate victims.

The 30-year terrorist war which ravaged Sri Lanka caused the loss of thousands of lives. It also resulted in the loss of valuable property (amounting to billions of rupees), halting of our development, regression of our economy and repeated bombings of trains, airports, buses and important places of worship including the hallowed Dalada Maligawa. During this period, SL steadfastly maintained that the only way to end terrorism was to defeat and vanquish the LTTE militarily, as it was the most ruthless terrorist organisation which existed globally at that time. Thanks to the political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the coordination of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the tri-service commanders, with the supreme sacrifice of our gallant ranaviru, this was achieved on May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon. If alive, SL would have been deeply concerned about the handing over of strategically important places such as Sampur in Trincomalee, the high security zones in Jaffna and thousands of acres of land in Kilinochchi which were won with the supreme sacrifice of our brave ranaviru.

Although he was born a Christian, he lost faith in that religion when his father died when SL was only 18. He then became an atheist, but had great respect for the erudite Buddhist clergy who remained in the formerly threatened villages of Sri Lanka in Welioya, Padavi-Sripura, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Ampara, risking their lives facing imminent death and tremendous economic hardships. He befriended them all, especially the late Ven. Halmillewe Rathanasara Thera of the Chethiyagiri Purana Rajamaha Viharaya in Parakramapura, Welioya. This monk who had come to this area at the time D.S. Senanayake was the minister of agriculture in the early 1940s was his special friend. They often worked together giving yeoman service to the poor peasants of the Padavi-Sripura, Welioya areas who had been subjected to repeated terrorist attacks during the war waged by the LTTE. After the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, SL along with other patriotic associations arranged a felicitation ceremony to honour and appreciate the great service rendered by these Buddhist monks who remained in these areas and served innocent people during the terrorist war.

I first met SL in the early 1990s when a number of national-minded organisations formed an umbrella organisation called “National Joint Committee” to oppose the devolution package introduced at that time. This envisaged giving 1/3rd of the land, 2/3rds of the coast line, police and judicial powers to appease the LTTE. Subsequently, he often joined our organisation “Success Colombo” when we visited the formerly threatened villages providing free medical clinics and social service projects such as self employment projects, assistance with housing, pre-school education and bicycles to school children etc. In the aftermath of the tsunami, he arranged transport and joined us in providing assistance to Muslim villages affected in the Trincomalee area. He always contributed generously to our organisation “Success Colombo” which he recognised as an association winning the hearts and minds of people.

SL was a courageous man who never minced his words. He spoke what had to be said, he wrote what had to be written in print media, did what had to be done and appeared on national TV whenever the security situation of the country was at risk. He appeared free of charge for ranaviru when they were produced before courts of law and travelled the length and breadth of our nation on their behalf, considering that as his bounden duty. He was a brilliant speaker in both English and Sinhala and appeared readily on stage when any patriotic organisation called him to address any issue in support of our national security.

SL was also a prolific writer who wrote many books while being engaged in a lucrative legal practice. Among the books he wrote were, Indo-Sri Lanka Accord – An analysis, Pandora’s Package, A tragedy of errors, Abomination, The report of the Eleven Pundits, Where angels fear to tread, Rajapaksa versus Fonseka and The Lore of the Law. The book he wrote titled “Wages of sin” was dedicated to me.

SL was least concerned about his own state of health. Much against his wishes, I insisted that I check his blood pressure when he was smoking away after we finished a medical clinic at Ethumale, a village in Ampara District around 10 p.m. in the mid-1990s. He was astounded when I told him that his blood pressure was 180/120. Since that day he stopped smoking, a habit he confessed he acquired during his school days! When I invited SL as the chief guest when I was inducted as President of the Ceylon College of Physicians in January 2001, he was at his brilliant best in oratory. In his speech he urged professionals to take an active part in the affairs of the state, because the governance of this country equally affects us all.

He admitted that I had done three villainous things to his life. Firstly, I had stopped him from smoking; secondly, I had put him on a diet and made him more spiritual; and thirdly, reduced his intake of alcohol! Although patients generally go to consult their doctors, SL was least concerned about his health and never went to see any doctor. As he was a national treasure, I made it a point to visit him and check on him once in two months or so by visiting him in his home on his wife Nimal’s request.

When the unitary state of the country was at risk with the merging of the North and East of Sri Lanka by the Indo-Lanka pact, SL along with Gomin Dayasiri and H.L De Silva challenged the legality of this in the Supreme Court and urged the delinking of the North and East of Sri Lanka. The then Chief Justice Sarath de Silva ruled that the merging was illegal and legally delinked the North and East of Sri Lanka. These three famous patriotic lawyers also challenged the PTOMS agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. In the PTOMS case, H.L. de Silva, Gomin Dayasri, S.L. Gunasekera filed applications on behalf of three JVP members and the Supreme Court issued an interim order, halting the PTOMS structure that went into oblivion with the coming of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.

During the height of the terrorist war in 2005, when an old Buddha statue was replaced by a new picturesque Buddha statue in the Trincomalee town, the tiger terrorists demanded the removal of the Buddha statue and organised severe hartals in the town. The Attorney General at that time claimed that this was an unlawful construction. At this time, the Ven. Dehiovita Piyatissa Thera, the chief priest of Bodhirajaramaya in China Bay claimed that the removal of the Buddha statue was an infringement of his fundamental rights. In this event, a case to protect the Buddha statue was petitioned in the Supreme Court. In this landmark case, SL Gunasekara and Monohara De Silva appeared for the priest. The Chief Justice ruled that the Buddha statue should be protected and could not be removed from this site on any account. This was a landmark decision and ensured the future protection of Buddha statues in all parts of our nation.

SL was a great family man. He was devoted to his wife Nimal who stood by him like a rock through good times and hard times. For hours, SL sat in the waiting room while his wife Nimal went for radiotherapy daily for over a month. They had thee children Theodore, Suneetha and Sunethra and seven grand children on whom he doted. Throughout his illness, he was looked after by Nimal and his children with great love and devotion.

Dear SL, you will be sadly missed by your family and all patriotic citizens of Sri Lanka who will remember you with love, gratitude and respect for the tremendous service you rendered so spontaneously and willingly for the security of our sovereign nation.

- Dr Anula Wijesundere

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