Prince Gunasekara; a crusader for human rights of the Sinhala rebels
I had never met Advocate Prince Gunasekera. He was living in United Kingdom since 1989 because there were threats to his life by then the government and paramilitary forces.
He spent the last three decades of his life in United Kingdom under the Queen whom he once denounced. He being a patriot refused to give oaths expressing loyalty to the Queen of Great Britain when he was elected as an SLFP Parliament Member representing Habaraduwa electorate in 1970. It was the agony of Sri Lanka but not of his own that he was compelled to seek political asylum in UK to save his life.
There was no evidence that Prince Gunasekera ever came back to Sri Lanka after his migration to United Kingdom together with his wife, who was a medical doctor and two daughters.
Even before 1956 he had been struggling against 1947 dominion constitution, which provided partial independence to Sri Lanka. He, who was a co-secretary to the People’s United Front in 1956, translated the then constitution from English to Sinhala for the first time in Sri Lanka.
He entered into politics through Lanka Samasamaja Party and subsequently became an active member of People’s United Front via Revolutionary Samasamaja Party led by Philip Gunawardena.
In 1060 March, he was elected to the Parliament representing Habaraduwa electorate. Prince, Philiph Gunawardena and another four parliament members of their party abstained voting at the throne speech by Dudly Senanayake. As a result, the government collapsed and a snap election was called. Prince was defeated at the subsequent election held in July 1960. Again, he won the electorate in 1965 as an independent candidate by defeating his predecessor with a narrow majority of 93 votes.
Prince had orientation towards Sinhala nationalism and there were instances he mingled himself with racism. Prince Gunasekera represented the group of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and other leftist parties, which opposed to the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act, brought to the parliament on January 08, 1966 by the coalition government of seven parties including Federal Party led by United National Party (UNP) in order to seek a radical solution to the language problem. During protests by the opposition Dambarawe Rathanasara Thero passed away due to injuries sustained in a vehicle accident. Prince Gunasekera made an emotional speech to the parliament showing the blood-stained robe of late Ven. Dambarawe Rathanasara Thero.
In 1970, he recorded a glamorous victory at Habaraduwa electorate with a lead of 9,000 votes representing SLFP. But he became independent in the parliament in 1971. He appeared for the human rights of rebels of 1971 insurrection and accompanied Lord Avebury of Amnesty International. Lord Avebury provided accommodation to Prince Gunesekara and his family at his residence when they later immigrated to UK.
Prince Gunesekera did not contest at the 1977 general election. He was able to obtain votes slightly above 1,000 at the by-election in 1983. UNP’s G.V.S. De Silva won the election, while Aussie Abeygunasekera became second by representing SLFP.
Prince Gunesekera was a journalist under D. B. Dhanapala at Lankadeepa newspaper at the time of 1956 election.
Prince Gunasekera was among the progressive elements detained by the J.R. Jayawardane led government in 1983 just after the communal violence in the country and was subsequently released without charges.
After 1987 he was more popular as a human rights lawyer. Accordingly, there were threats to his life from the military and paramilitary loyal to the then government. In 1989 his nephew Kanchana Abeypala was assassinated in cold blood revenging their collective human rights advocacy.
I, the writer of this article have saved my life due to involvement of human rights activists of the time who either sacrificed their lives or went to exile. I was unable to find who filed a habeas corpus petition on behalf of me. My father withdrew the petition when the government admitted that I had been placed under their custody.
Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe (Translated by Rajendra Wijesinghe)