Today, in a speech before parliament, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the nearly 30-year-long civil war that pitted the government of Sri Lanka against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government later announced the death of a key leader of the LTTE and asserted this as a sign of military victory.
In recent months, thousands of refugees had been trapped in a war zone, caught between the opposing sides of this conflict. Some were able to escape, and many others remained stranded. Many conflict-affected people remain displaced and marginalized, and the long road of peace-building still lies ahead. To help MADRE provide emergency medical supplies and relief services to women and families in refugee camps in Sri Lanka, click here.
Sunila Abeysekera, a member of the MADRE Network of Experts and the Executive Director of IWRAW Asia Pacific, has worked for many years to defend women’s human rights in Sri Lanka. In a recent interview, she explained the way militarization undermines democracy:
“Militarization creates wide acceptance of the idea that you can crush dissent, that you can win consensus by using violence, torture and intimidation. That is the biggest legacy that militarization has bequeathed to us in Sri Lanka. Everybody – almost everybody in that society – accepts that violence is a way to crush people’s voices when they don’t agree with you, whether it is in the family, or in the community, or what is happening at the level of the state.”
Sunila also emphasized the need to reach out across boundaries created by identity:
“If you look at the ways in which Israeli and Palestinian women have tried to work together in the past, or Singhalese and Tamil women in Sri Lanka – whenever the conflict intensifies, the polarisation sharpens and the capacity to reach out, to have compassion, to be humble in the face of the enormity of what is being done in your name fatally shrinks. I am Singhalese and the Sri Lankan government conducts this war in the name of defending the Singhalese. In such circumstances, it becomes almost impossible to hang onto the idea that as feminists we have a common cause and yet it becomes imperative that we hang onto that belief.”
In March, we had the chance to sit down with Sunila and ask her about what challenges she faces in her human rights work in Sri Lanka. She explains in the video below.