Tamara Kunanayakam: Some Career Highlights

Michael Roberts

I got to know Tamara Kunanayakam and her partner, Jean-Pierre Page, and their dog Umberto[1] when staying overnight with them at their rented house in Battaramulla around 2016[2] during the course of my inquiries into Sri Lankan political affairs on the diplomatic circuit and the UNHRC in particular. Since Tamara was our Ambassador at the UNHRC in Geneva in the years 2011-12, this was a logical step.

Tamara’s father was a Jaffna Tamil from Chundikuli in Jaffna and an old-school Leftist of the LSSP who had married an Indian Tamil lady from Badulla [aAA]. Tamara herself was educated at Ladies College in Colombo and had the energy and character at the age of 19 to travel overland to Europe with her brother in the year 1972.[3] This trip marks their courage, fortitude and enterprise – as anyone familiar with the countries and landscapes travelled would attest.

Tamara Kunanayakam  ended up in Geneva, but she then enrolled at Heidelberg University and earned a BA in Economics. She thereafter enrolled in the Institute of International & Development Studies at Geneva in 1983. Geneva was now her hometown and her brothers and widowed mother joined her there.[4]

Given this cosmopolitan background, it is not altogether surprising that she is said to be fluent in the Tamil, Sinhala, English, French, Spanish and German languages.[5] As significantly, at some point in the 1980s one Mahinda Rajapaksa was hosted and assisted by the Kunanayakam family when he visited Geneva.[6]

Clearly, it was this brief friendship and Tamara’s considerable linguistic skills and conspicuous ability that induced the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime of 2005 et seq to choose Tamara at Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Brazil in 2007 and thereafter in Cuba[7] in the year 2009. She was then moved into the key post as “Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN Office at Geneva” in 2011.[8]


Now, in retrospect, her removal from this post in May 2012 looms as a major issue and thus a sharp criticism of the Rajapaksa administration – the events surrounding which, I trust, the new book by Rajiva Wijesinha,[9] will shed light. Significantly, DBS Jeyaraj twigged the impending dismissal early in May 2012 and, perhaps as significantly Charles Haviland of the BBC (a consistent critic of Sri Lanka’s war effort in 2008/09 from his post in Colombo) announced her demotion a few days later.




Uditha Devapriya: “Struggles in Geneva….with yakku within the Rajapaksa Officialdom,” 11 December 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/12/12/struggles-in-geneva-with-yakku-within-the-rajapaksa-officialdom/

Charles Haviland: “Sri Lankan UN ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam demoted,” 9 May 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-18006283

DBS Jeyaraj: “Moves on to remove Tamara Kunanayakam as UN envoy in Geneva,” 2 May 2012, srilankabrief.org/moves-on-to-remove-tamara-kunanayakam-as-un-envoy-in-geneva/

Gus Mathews: “Kunanayakam’s Incisive Review of the West’s Machinations at Geneva and Lanka’s Failures,” 11 April 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/04/11/kunanayakams-incisive-review-of-the-wests-machinations-at-geneva-and-lankas-failures/

Rajiva Wijesinha: Representing Sri Lanka, Colombo, 2012, Godage.

UNHRC: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/pages/home.aspx

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamara_Kunanayakam



[1]   Umberto and I gelled immediately. Alas, he has since passed away.

[2] My memory, alas, is not what it used to be; and age has withered my status and capacities as a historian.

A+AA= This ‘fact ‘was derived from the Wikipedia bio-description  which cites DBS Jeyaraj as authority). However, Sanath Jayatilaka (in Colombo) tells me that “Tamara’s father married an aristocratic Kandyan lady from the Taldena family and lived at Taldena on the Badulla-Mahiyangana Road.”

[3] This kind of trip in the 1960s and 1970s would have demanded tremendous fortitude and initiative. Sanath Jayatilaka has sent me a correction by Email: She did travel to Europe but not with her brother, but with the youngest son of Mr. Rajaratnam of Sancy Studio, Lower Kings Street, Badulla.”

[4] These details are from the Wikipedia account on Kunanayakam: see ……………………………………………….. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamara_Kunanayakam

[5] Asindicated in the Wikipedia account of her career:

[6] One of the facts related by her during our conversations that has stuck in my memory.

[7] During our chats at Battaramulla Kunanayakam contended that Cuba was one of the best listening posts for developments in South America – in part because potentates and others heading for the capitals in various parts of Latin America often stopped off in Cuba.

[8] Some of her experiences in this post and commentary on her achievements are related in the items I have presented in Thuppahi (see the Bibliography here in this item).

[9] See Uditha Devapriya 2021. In a recent email dated 12 December 202, Rajiva has informed me thus: “She was actually removed just after the 2012 March session. I think Kshenuka Seneviratne and Sajin Vas Gunewardena were the leaders behind the move to get rid of her. I think you have seen Tamara’s account of the change in Mahinda between September 2011 when he backed her and February when he was lackadaisical.”

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One response to “Tamara Kunanayakam: Some Career Highlights

  1. Chandra Maliyadde

    Taste of the pudding is in the eating but not in ingredients

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