The International day of the disappeared scheduled for the 30th August was commemorated on the 07th September 2017 by the Human Rights Office Kandy at Wattegama Town Hall in Kandy Sri Lanka, with the families of the disappeared from the North & South of Sri Lanka in remembering their loved ones and calling the government to reveal the truth about the disappeared persons by activating the Office of the Missing Persons established by a bill on the 23rd August 2016 to which a fresh amendment was passed unanimously in Parliament in June 2017.
The government ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances on the 24th June 2016, but without accepting article 31 that will allow families of disappeared and other Sri Lankans to complain to the UN Committee that monitor the implementation of the convention. The government has also promised to criminalize enforced disappearances, but that too has not happened for nearly two years. A draft bill was expected to be debated in parliament, but was postponed indefinitely.
The 2017 disappearances day programme was combined with a Human Rights exhibition that included the Act on Right to Information. 27 women leaders from women headed families from 05 groups in Jaffna & Mannar participated in the event and remembered their loved ones and expressed their grievances as victims of the North were not allowed to have any religious or secular function for memorialization, hence it was an opportunity to for them to join the families of the disappeared in the south in memorializing their disappeared family members.
The days’ event began with the lighting of the oil lamp which was proceeded with the religious observances and the welcome speech made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights Office explained the objectives of the event which was followed by a welcome dance.
The event was graced by many government officials and religious dignitaries. The coordinator of the Kandy Regional Human Rights Commission, Ms. Kumudini Vithana, addressing the audience recalled her first experience with a wife of a disappeared 25 years back while she was working in the North Central Province and said that disappearances is a crime against Humanity. She said that the commemoration, which Fr. Nandana and his staff has organized, is actually an event that should have being organized by the Human Rights Commission and therefore she highly appreciates the effort. Recalling the inception of the Human Rights Commission, she said it was to handle the complaints of the disappeared, and investigate them.
Ven. Dr. Atipola Sumangala thero made a very powerful speech and said that we are living in an era where there is no Rule of Law in practice and therefore we look forward with desperation. "Sri Lankan Political setting, longing for solutions for the problems of the families of the disappeared seems rather remorse, quoting Lord Buddha,“Nahiverenawerani” Hatred can never be dealt with hatred in return. However hard it is, we must learn to forgive and be void of hatred.( Value of Maithri).
Speaking to the families of the disappeared, Ven. Dr. Atipola Sumangala thero admitted that this not a period of hope for the families of the disappeared, hence the Right to Information Act is important as it provides us the Right to demand information. However the activation status of this Act depends on the civil society that has to activate it by using it. If we seek to find solution for our problems as a civilized society, it is important for the victims of all communities to be in solidarity and demand for Justice.
He further reiterated that it is only by uniting as a society, being honest that we could recover from the disintegrated political system and ensure that violence and bloodshed may not repeat in future. As religious leaders, responsible officers, and victims who have already suffered, it is important for us to jointly work towards a functional Justice system.
Ms. Jayanthi Dandeniya, the chief organizer of the disappeared families since 1990 and instrumental in erecting the monument of the disappeared at Seeduwa, speaking on behalf of the southern families of the disappeared said that most of the disappearances took place during JVP insurrection was on personal grudges. Further she said that she was an eye witnesses to incidents of abduction and murder in broad day light. “People were abducted and killed and buried in mass graves without leaving a trace”. She said that her husband and brother were shot, poured kerosene oil and firewood and burnt at the Seeduwa junction and she said they were forced to disappear.
Valentina Daniel, speaking on behalf of the Northern families of the disappeared said that she was born in Jaffna and in 1995, they fled the area due to the civil war and her mother had an injury in the leg which made walking difficult for her and requested her to move, however Valentina has found a piece of mat and dragged her along the road until she found an army camp, where she handed her mother over to the soldiers at the camp. Ever since then Valentina has never found her mother. She said that this is just only one story, but there are so many children searching for their parents, wives searching for their husbands believed to have being disappeared.
She further said that, over the years, so many organizations have come and gathered information on a number of occasions and that they provided information with the hope that truth will come at the end, however all who collected information remained silent. “We should come together and make sure that this does not happen in the future, we should come together to make sure that our children will not suffer the same fate that we did”. The women attended the disappearances programme while they were participating in a workshop on healing organized by the Human Rights Office for 03 days and facilitated by Ms. Monica Alfred at Fatima retreat house in Lewella in Kandy.
The disappearances days programme continued with the Human Rights exhibition until afternoon and religious, civil society members, school children, teachers and parents visited the exhibition, while the staff and the members of the HRO support group went into the streets, distributed the leaflets and explained in detail.
With the theme “Use the Right to Information Act and Prevent Torture” the Human Rights Office held an exhibition on the 25th June 2017 at Nawalapitiya. The Right to Information Act that was passed on the 04th of August 2016 in the Sri Lankan Parliament and it was explained to more than 3000 people who gathered at St. Mary’s Church Parish Hall. Visual presentations both in Sinhala and Tamil were accompanied by an exhibition on Torture and the Act on Right to Information.
The signature campaign that was launched by the Human Rights Office - Kandy of Sri Lanka in 2016 to collect 10,000 signatures to request the Attorney General to prosecute the Torture Perpetrators under the Torture Act no 22 of 1994, was further carried on as the Attorney General has not indicted Torture perpetrators for the past 08 years.
The Right to Information Act that came in to force on 03rd February 2017, the fight for responsible accountability, good governance which is against corruption can only be strengthened if the information held by responsible authorities is more readily available. The result of relaxing the obstructing tight mechanisms that prevent the access of information would create a more transparent system of administration.
It is remarkable and broadly accepted by legal academics that the true essence of democracy can be achieved by the declaration of “Right to Information” to the public. The scrutiny of such is notably to maintain a more democratic system in the country whilst entertaining the true spirit of transparency.
Sri Lanka has been struggling with providing recuperative services to victims of Torture as well as families of the disappeared and prisoners detained indefinitely without trial waiting to know the truth for accountability and justice. The human rights situation in Sri Lanka has been reviewed recently by a number of independent experts and bodies at the UN. These include the Special Rapporteur on torture who visited the country in 2016 and concluded that “a culture of torture persists”. The Committee against Torture also reviewed in November 2016 and expressed its concern at allegations of the routine use of torture.
The Right to information Act give access to parents and families of the persons detained in police custody to inquire of the detainee as RTI has a provision that clearly says that information involves life or liberty of a person, the information should be provided within 48 hours and thus this provision could be made use of to prevent Torture.
The Torture exhibition and the signature campaign continued from 9.00 a.m. until 12.30 p.m. and the general public, from all walks of life, showed a tremendous interest on the subject including the school children.
The comments from the general public was very positive and they thanked the HRO and requested more opportunities to campaign against police brutality and Torture.
International Women's day 2017 was organized by the Prison Welfare Organization of Dumbara - Bogambara and the Human Rights Office Kandy and the event was held on the 08th March 2017 at the Dumbara - Bogambara Kandy female prison hall. The chief guest and the speaker of the day was Dr. Thanuja Herath Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology from the Peradeniya Dental Faculty. Dr. Thanuja addressing the gathering illustrated the challenges of women in Sri Lanka.
The women's day was made colorful with several, cultural items presented by the female prisoners. Prizes were given away by the director of the human rights office, Fr. Nandana Manatunga and the superintendent of the prison to the winners of Art and Poem competitions that were held for the female prisoners. Children who were also in detention with their mothers were also given gifts and it was announced that the detention of children was
The Human Rights Office staff was commended for the continued assistance provided to the prisoners both legal and welfare assistance. The superintendent of the Prison, Mr. Senerath Senanayake thanked the Human Rights Office and all those who were present for organizing a meaningful women's day.
An exhibition of the items prepared by the female prisoners were displayed at the end of the days celebrations and the well-wishers were invited to purchase items to support and appreciate the work of the female prisoners.
Human Rights Salutation 2016, was held at the Good Shepherd Convent Kandy on the 11th December 2016 with the theme “Stand up for someone's rights today” around 500 participants including religious leaders of all faiths joined the occasion. The event was organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy, Sri Lanka to salute 03 prominent Human Rights Activists and award the winners of school and Religious Schools Art and Essay competition held in view of the Human Rights Day 2016.
Rev. Fr. Oswald Firth OMI, a stalwart in development field and protection of the Rights of the poor was the chief guest and Ruki Fernando, Award winner of the 2008 Human Rights salutation, who was recognized for his dedicated world renowned Human Rights activism delivered the key note address.
Fr. Nandana Manatunga introducing the event explained the need to appreciate the courage of survivors as well as Human Rights defenders and activists and stated that HRO encourage school children, victims and activists on the Human Rights to continue the mission of defending, protecting and promoting the rights of all the citizens.
Marisa De Silva, the young Human Rights Activist the writer was awarded for her dedicated and untiring work for the marginalized in Sri Lanka in defending and campaigning for the rights of the minorities seeking Justice and redress for the victims.
The Torture survivors T. Ramesh Kumara and Rohitha Liyanage were awarded for their courage in voicing against Torture and other cruel, inhuman ,degrading treatment and punishment, and seeking justice to punish the perpetrator police officers and the TID, during the most repressive regime, risking their lives and their families, breaking the silence of the suffering survivors of Torture.
Rev. Fr Oswald Firth OMI was shared his experiences during his address and said that defending the Rights of the victimized cannot be postponed as you may be the next victim and invited everyone to join in protecting and promoting the Rights of the defenseless, the marginalized and the poor. Fr Firth further shared his experiences during the JVP insurrection while in Kandy as the Setik director, his encounters with the law enforcing agencies .his interventions when he attempted to save the detained youth in various detention centers who were on the death row. Fr. Firth stated that he is still active in the North of Sri Lanka with Peace & Reconciliation programmes.
Ruki Fernando presented an over view of the Human Rights situation in the country and paused several questions to the audience and said that we need to protect & defend the Rights of the other as well as our own Rights. Further he invited everyone to journey with victims, even if the journey is long than we expect.
The former Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala Rt. Rev. Dr. Kumara Illangasinghe presented the award on behalf of HRO to Rev. Oswald Firth for the services rendered during the past many years as the Director of Setik - Kandy, National Director Caritas and Director - Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) of the oblate congregation and to the whole country.
Certificates were awarded to the members of the debate teams in recognition of the participation in the “Mandela Trophy Debate Competition held in September 2016 between the “Prisoners of the Dumbara - Bogambara prison & the students of the Law Faculty of Paradeniya. The debate was organized by the HRO in collaboration with the Department of Prisons during the prisons week.
The winners of Art & Essay competitions were awarded to encourage students who will be the future in creating a culture of Human Rights in our country. It was noteworthy that 1952 students from 305 schools in Central Province participated in Art & Essay competitions. 739 children from 180 multi Religious Schools ( Sunday Schools ) participated in the 2016 Art & Essay competitions. The Art & Essay competitions initiated a discussion on the most crucial human rights issues among the students, teachers, and parents, religious and within a larger section of the civil society and it was remarkable to note the number of Muslim children from various Muslim schools & religious schools participated in the both Art & Essay competitions.
The parents of the disappeared, families of the prisoners, Torture and rape survivors, who participated in various workshops during the year were also presented with souvenir’s to encourage and appreciate their commitment and consistency in their efforts to reactivate the dysfunctional Justice system that constantly failed them in the past.
With the theme " Prosecute the Torture Perpetrators " a signature campaign was launched by the Human Rights Office - Kandy of Sri Lanka to request the Attorney General to prosecute the Torture Perpetrators under the Torture Act no 22 of 1994, as for the past 08 years, Torture cases were not filed under this Act as Attorney General Department was directly under the President.
There are several cases of Torture filed under fundamental rights in the Supreme Court but not under the Torture Act. The cases that are now in High Courts under this Act were filed in early 2000. The Torture continues systematically almost every day in police stations. Even now large number of cases are being reported but the Attorney General has failed to prosecute the perpetrators under the Torture Act. The special investigation unit of the police that investigated cases of torture was also dismantled during the previous regime.
here was only one conviction from the Central Province of Sri Lanka on the 03rd December 2015, where 02 police officers attached to the Wattegama police station were sentenced to 07 years of rigorous imprisonment but this case was filed in 2007 under the Torture Act. It is the one and only conviction from the Kandy High Court for that matter from the whole of Central Province. There are few more cases of Torture still in High Courts filed under the Torture Act before 2008.
Along with the signature campaign the Human Rights Office had a public gathering and an exhibition to mobilize the civil society to campaign to "Say No to Torture", to form a civil movement against Torture.
On the 24th June 2016 the programme was held at the George E de Silva Park, in the heart of the Kandy city. It started off with the public gathering along with the religious leaders and the civil society actors. Fr Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office, explained the purpose and the significance in commemorating the International Torture day. The coordinator of the Kandy Regional branch of the National Human Rights Commission Mrs. Kumudini Vithana explained why the civil society need to campaign against Torture. The Religious leaders, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim leaders then explained the evils of “Torture" from a religious perspective.
This was followed by the exhibition that depicted the real stories of Torture victims, recent judgements on Torture cases and the devastation of the dignity of the human person due to Torture. Posters further explained the inalienable Rights fundamental rights, what transitional Justice means and posters on disappearances and of rights of the prisoners.
With the signature campaign, general public were made aware of the “Evils of Torture and all those who signed the petition were given leaflets, handout on “Torture" the mother of all Human Rights violations, and knowledge on how to make a complaint at the police station, the Rights of the women when searched explained in detail and the Rights of the suspected who are being arrested etc.
The exhibition and the signature campaign continued from 9.00 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. and the general public, from all walks of life, showed a tremendous interest on the subject including the school children and several torture cases were also reported then and there. 4846 persons signed the petition and the HRO hope to collect 10,000 signatures before finally it is handed over to the President, the minister of Justice and the Attorney General. The comments from the general public was very positive and they thanked the HRO and requested more opportunities to campaign against police brutality and Torture.
“Independent and credible investigations to ensure the Rights of the Victims”
The International Human Rights Day 2015 was celebrated by the Human Rights Office in Kandy on the 12th December 2015 at the Sri Pushpadana Halll Kandy with the theme of “Independent and credible investigations to ensure the Rights of the victims”. The German Ambassador to Sri Lanka Dr. Jurgan Morhard being the chief guest and Rt. Rev. Dr. Cletus Perera the Bishop of Ratnapura and Davide Vignati the first secretary of Swiss Embassy, Rev. Fr. Bala Rajendran the Apostolic Vicar being the guests of Honor. There were more than 450 participants, survivors, Human Rights activists, members of the support group and civil society members including lawyers & professionals.
To inaugurate the day’s events, the oil lamp was lit by the Guests which was followed by Religious leaders who came on to the stage and observed few moments of silence and remembered the slain Human Rights activists and victims, during the religious song that was played and placed flowers before the Religious symbols.
Fr. Nandana Manatunga the Director of The Human Rights office made the welcome speech. He said that this year’s celebration is special as the Human Rights office could proudly say that, we are moving forward towards our goal with landmark judgments delivered of the victims of HRO initiating the process of reforms to establish the Rule of Law.
Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, the patron of the National Movement for Social Justice initiated by Most Ven. Sobitha Thero introduced the day and said that the Human Rights Day, the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The formal inception of Human Rights Day dates from 1950, after the Assembly passed resolution 423(V) inviting all States and interested organizations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
Today the general consent of all United Nations Member States, on the basic Human Rights, laid down in the Declaration, makes it even stronger and emphasizes the relevance of Human Rights in our daily lives. Therefore
today as we celebrate the Human Rights day, let us remind ourselves of the inalienable Rights and the need to protect, promote and safeguard the Rights of all citizens".
Activities and highlights of the Human Rights office were screened and the documentary described the process in which the HRO has gathered people in to a movement to campaign to establish the Rule of law making a clear impact in our society.
Mr. Sanjeewa Weerawickrama, the legal counsel of the Asian Human Rights Commission - Hong Kong delivered the key note address on the day’s theme “Independent and credible investigations to ensure the Rights of the Victims”. His speech captured the whole gathering as he went on explaining the process how the Rule of Law system was crippled by former Presidents with constitutional changes according to their whims and fancies to protect their friends from being prosecuted for serious crimes.
The Chief guest Dr. Morhard, the German Ambassador to Sri Lanka in his speech thanked the Human Rights activists for bringing about a change and requested everyone to continue to work towards achieving a total change as still there are Human Rights violations. Further he said it is not only for Justice that we should work, but also to find the Truth.
Bishop Cletus Perera is the chairman of the Catholic National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism and the Commission for Missionary Activity of Sri Lankan Bishops' Conference, addressing the gathering explained the need know our rights as it is important for the protection of the rights and respect for the rights of others. He further said that SriLankans have to overcome the legacy of our past, and embrace our new democratic dispensation founded on the fundamental principles of freedoms, equality and human dignity
The expression, ‘human rights’ has gained a lot of significance in the modern society in the West as well as in the East. There are similarities and differences between the modern conception of human rights and that existing in our history. The dance and music are expressions of our emotions; hence there were several cultural items staged that beautified the days programme.
The art, in the printed invitation sent out by the HRO was the first place of under 20 inter school Art competition held in 2014 in view of the International Human Rights day 2015, and the artist Afra Nawaz of Hillwood College Kandy described the perception of her Award winning Art.
Testimonial therapy, the survivors testify and the testimony is documented by the counselor and during a formal ceremony the written testimony is handed over to the survivor. This method was found to be effective to certain torture survivors and their family members. During the Human Rights day programme, the ceremonial delivery of testimonies of Anthony Chandra and her daughters were also held. Chandra was detained for 07 years under the PTA and released without charges. The youngest daughter out of the 03 daughters was only 2 ½ years old, when Chandra was arrested. Her mother-in-law took care of the children during those 07 years with untold hardships. Chandra and her daughters were traumatized with the sudden arrest and detention.
Closing the day’s events of 2015 International Human Rights Day, Carols were sung to remind about the greatest event in the history, the Birth of Christ Jesus.
The International day of the disappeared was commemorated in Kandy by the Human Rights Office on the 05th of September 2015 at the Sri Pushpadana hall with around 225 participants. The parents and the family members both from north and south participated to remember their loved ones who were made to disappear during the civil war and also during the JVP insurrections in 89/90. Families from Nachchikuda and Mulankavil represented the disappeared families of the Northern Province.
The parents and family members placed flowers at the replica of the monument that was prepared at the stage, after the religious observances.
An introduction for the day's events were given by Fr. Nandana Manatunga which was followed by a lengthy explanation about the involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka by Rev. Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando. He emphasized on the definition “involuntary disappearances” and said that there were no voluntary disappearances but the people were made to disappear and the state is accountable to all the disappearances that took place during the JVP insurrection and also during the civil war. He further said that the former government only appointed commissions but made no commitment to reveal the facts and therefore we need to campaign with the new government which has shown elements of commitment to peace & reconciliation with the proposals to setting up an office for the disappeared.
The importance of remembering such crimes to avoid repeating again and campaign to seek the truth was screened using the Gwanju uprising as an example of their fight for democracy, during which thousands of innocent youth sacrificed their lives. Further it is notable the first and the only monument was erected at Seeduwa Raddoluwa with the directions and assistance of the AHRC & the May 18th foundation of South Korea.
Following the visual presentation 04 victims shared their experiences of having lost their children & husbands, made to disappear. The shared accounts were emotional, calling the audience to campaign to call the government to provide information.
Mr. Rukshan Fernando made a presentation about the progress made since 2015 January after the presidential elections on disappearances said except some findings on Prageeth Eknaligoda, nothing has concretely taken place to find the more than 18,000 people who were disappeared during the civil war and said that we need to call the president to publicize the findings of the commissions. Speaking about the present commission, he said it lacks credibility, however people have spent time and made so much of commitment and therefore those findings cannot be just ignored. Ruki further said disappearances should be criminalized and the law should retroactive, operative with respect to past occurrences. He said that if the government is committed to work against disappearances, it should ratify the convention on disappearances and disclose the secretive detention centers. Applauding the families of the disappeared, finally Rukshan said it was the parents and the families of the disappeared who continued the struggle with so much of interventions at different levels in spite of challenges and he requested them to continue the struggle until they find the truth.
The testimony of Mayuri whose husband was made to disappear in 2013 was presented to highlight the fact that disappearances still do take place even after the end of the civil war.
A Media conference was held in the afternoon with a panel that included, Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, Fr. Nandana Manatunga, Mr. Rukshan Fernando, Mrs. Mayuri, Mrs. Jesudasan Rita and Mrs. Padma. The panel highlighted the need to reveal the truth about the people who were made to disappear and criminalize disappearances in Sri Lanka. The government should be accountable and disclose all secretive detention centers if they still exist. The victims also called to speed up trials in court and to release the PTA suspects languishing in prisons for many years and finally to repeal the PTA which is considered as a draconian law.
2015 Women’s Day in Kandy
at Bogambara - Dumbara Prison
The International Women's Day 2015 was celebrated by the Human Rights Office in Kandy in collaboration with the Prison Welfare Union at the Bogambara- Dumbara prison on the 08th March 2015 with 110 female remand and sentenced prisoners.
It was a very meaningful celebration with an exhibition & sale of the creative items made by the female prisoners.
The day’s events included inputs by Psychiatric Dr. Damith Hettiarachchi, Mrs. Surangika Ranaweera a lawyer of the HRO and by the director Fr. Nandana Manatunga who made a visual presentation and elaborated on the theme “Empowering Women –Empowering Humanity” followed by dances and a drama by the female prisoners.
Refreshments prepared by the HRO were served to all present and the gifts to the prisoners as a sign of love and sharing.
The former Mahamaya Girls College principal Mrs. Wijesinghe an official monitor to the prison, appreciated the painstaking work of the officials, in caring the detainees and requested them to consider it, not as a duty but rather as a commitment.
The drama staged by the inmates was the highlight of the day as they dramatized the reasons for their imprisonment. While accepting the reality, they visualized their regrets and repentance and hope for a better future once they are released.
The prison welfare officer Superintendent Mr. A.M.W. Bandara made the vote of thanks elaborating his experience and thanked Mrs. Wijesinghe for her sentiments of appreciation extended to the prison officials which he said would further encourage them. He thanked the HRO director & the staff for organizing 2015 International Women’s Day in Prison recognizing the importance of the female detainees. The exhibition & the sale of the creative items made by the Prisoners were declared open by Fr. Nandana & Mrs. Wijesinghe and items were sold by the prisoners.
With the Women’s day being celebrated at the Prison, the female detainees were recognized, accepted and dignified. At this occasion the HRO made few more avenues and scheduled future activities and thus openings to monitor the prison conditions and identify the detainees who need legal & other assistance.
Human Rights Salutation 2015 was held at the Pushpadana hall in Kandy with the theme “Let the dignity of ordinary persons be recognized before the Law", around 500 participants joined the occasion. The event was organized by the Human Rights office in Kandy to salute 03 prominent Human Rights activists and award the winners of school & Sunday school Art and essay competitions held in view of the Human Rights Day 2014.
Bishop Vianney Fernando was the chief guest, and former high court judge P.B Warawewa was the guest of honor, in place of Upul Jayasuriya. Delivering the key note address Mr. Warawewa expressed his sentiments of joy for having being able to join the Human Rights activists and called upon the activist to make use of the democratic space given by the present regime to build the society with Rule of law. Further he said the constitutional reforms are necessary to do away with the impunity enjoyed by one person as the president. “No one should be above the law” therefore he said the reforms are crucial for the country to be Rule by Law.
Bishop Vianney in his addressed said that civil society at times question the involvement of the Priests and Religious in their struggles, but the Bishop reiterated that mission of Christ was prophetic and therefore many of our brothers and sister sacrificed their lives in order to protect the rights of the poor, such as Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Fr. Micheal Rodrigo who spoke out on behalf of the poor and the victims of repression were killed while saying mass.
Fr. Nandana Manatunga and the staff of the Human Rights office Kandy Sri Lanka saluted and recognized the commitment of 02 Human Rights activists and a victim of judicial miscarriages who fought against the defective justice delivery system.
Rev. Fr. Terrence Fernando was awarded for his dedicated and untiring work for Justice & Equality as a Human Rights Defender for the victims of war and for upholding Christian values and being a bridge between the north & the south.
Rev. Sr. Helen Lambart was awarded for her dedicated service in risking her own life in providing Security & Protection to the children during and after the civil war and for seeking Justice & Redress to survivors.
Mrs. Malani Serasinghe was awarded for challenging the defective justice system with courage in spite of challenges from the judiciary and law-enforcing agencies.
The winners of Art & Essay competitions were awarded to encourage students who will be the future in creating a culture of Human Rights in our country. It was noteworthy that 1860 students from 228 schools in Central Province participated in Art & Essay competitions. 450 children from 80 multi religious Sunday schools participated in the 2014 Art & Essay competitions. Therefore the Human Rights Award ceremony created consciousness among the students, teachers, parents, religious and within a larger section of the civil society.
The International Human Rights Day 2014 was celebrated by the Human Rights Office Kandy Sri Lanka on the 10th December at the Fatima Retreat house in Lewella Kandy with around 150 survivors of Rape, Torture, families of the disappeared and of Prisoners, support group members and civil society members.
Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office introducing the day lamented on the present judicial system that is gradually collapsing with political interference. He spoke about the shrinking democratic space due to the total control of the executive presidency in all areas of the Judiciary leading to the collapse of the Rule of Law.
He further stressed on the need for the victims to voice and the civil society members to assist them in their struggle for Justice.
The key note address delivered by Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando on the proposed constitutional reforms and independent institutions that will eventually establish the Rule of Law with an independent judiciary. Fr. Reid also quoted the pastoral letter of the Bishops conference that was released on the 08th December 2013. A summary of the pastoral letter was distributed to the participants in which the bishops call for a new beginning with the integration of the different communities, and stressing the urgency for constitutional reforms to preserve the interdependency of the Judiciary. Further the pastoral letter also speak about Human Rights and open market economy.
The theme of the celebration was - Break the Silence – “Let the voices of victims be heard". Miscarriage of Justice due to corruption, inefficiency, discrimination were voiced by 04 victims. Their painful stories were unfold while the audience was dumbfounded. Malani Serasinghe explained how after a serious accident, she was forced by the Judge to accept compensation, from a stranger who appeared in court as the accused. She said even after being at hospital Intensive Care Unit for 03 months, she had the strength to listen to her conscious and fight for Justice. It was a clear case of bribery both, by the police and the Judiciary. However Malani being a very ordinary women from the village understood the sense of Justice she ought to receive and rejected the offer made by the Magistrate. The stories that followed were also about miscarriage of Justice either due to the police inaction or judicial negligence.
Jayantha, a former Civil defence force personnel attached to the Civil defence force explained his ordeal of Torture in the police for an alleged theft in the court house where he had no connection. Shantha narrated her story, how the education department officers, the principal of the school and the police officers turned a blind eye when her daughter was brutally assaulted by a senior director of the education department during a zonal athletic meet in mid-2014, while she represented her school. The incident led the student to be hospitalized for 03 days.
A young Tamil widow explained the story how her husband 35 years of age, was knocked by a lorry while he was returning home in early 2014 after work. The injuries eventually made him unconscious for 04 months until his death leaving 02 daughters and a son behind. It was a clear case of miscarriage of justice as the police officers failed miserably in conducting a proper inquiry, destroying the evidence. However after his death, his body was immediately removed by the police officers creating a story to say that he fell in the bathroom and the cause of death was pneumonia. She believes that the lorry owner has bribed the police.
A lively discussion followed, centering around the proposed reforms into the Constitution and on reforms in the police and the Judiciary.
World Mental Health Day (10 October) is a day declared for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. It was first celebrated in 1992 with the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. Human Rights Office in Kandy working with different kinds of survivor groups for their legal and psychological needs, believe, that mental health is a human right. We celebrated it with the above mentioned group of people on world mental health day.
The theme of the World Mental Health Day for this year is “Living with Schizophrenia”. The focus is, living a healthy life with schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder affecting more than 21 million people worldwide.
The celebration was held at Fatima Retreat House Lewella. Approximately there were about 150 survivor families of both ethnic groups Sinhala and Tamil. Among the participants, there were prison officials, members of the Religious congregations, priests, the members of the support group, families of the disappeared and of the prisoners and the survivors of Rape & Torture.
Rev. Fr. Chandana Perera (CSSR a mental health professional) who graced the occasion as the chief guest dealt with the theme of the day in an appropriate manner. He spoke about different ways where survivors could create a healthy surrounding for their day today living. He emphasized on the importance of formation of attitudes towards a healthy living. Dealing with male – female mental differences based on Sri Lankan cultural and social outlook in practical and innovative way of living was an eye opener for most of the participants. Meanwhile it was an enjoyable event for the participants as they took part in several practical exercises to release their frantic mental and physical conditions.
The publication of “Nadiya” magazine was the most highlighted even of the day. Nadiya is the Brainchild of the Families of the disappeared. This magazine was evolving slowly but steadily since 2000. Currently some of the well-known writers contribute with their expertise knowledge and experiences for the mental health education of our survivor groups as well as for the general public. The publication was initiated with the chanting of “Bakthi Gee” and the first issue was presented to Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunge the Director of Human Rights Office in Kandy and then for all the other respective participants.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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