The Human Rights Office in its seventh year of salutation recognised three distinguished human rights activists who have rendered yeoman services to the cause. They were felicitated at a special awards ceremony held on December 9 at Good Shepherd’s Convent in Kandy
The Chief Guest of the occasion was Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel and Chairman of the Office of Missing Persons, while Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando, Chairman of the Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development, graced the occasion as the Guest of Honour.
The first award was a tribute to the families of the disappeared, in memory of their long journey with the human rights office. The families of whose members had disappeared formed a group on October 27, 1991to mark the ‘International Day of Missing Persons.’ Drawn from various parts of the country, there was no disparity among them and the group was bound as one family to protect their rights.
Since 2012, members of this group were able to go to the North to seek solace for their own brethren and to establish links to find the truth of the fate of these missing persons
This group took upon themselves the task of visiting army camps and tendering petitions to various authorities in a bid to trace their loved ones. With the commission appointed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike in 1995, they were given the opportunity to appear before the commission to provide information on the disappeared.
This group stood for what was right and dismissed compensations offered to them. They also rejected the temporary death certificates given to them. Their ultimate goal was to find what truly happened to their loved ones and to gain confirmation on the events that transpired leading to their disappearance.
In addition to this initiative, they found in Jayanthi Dandeniya, solace to rally around, where she was searching for her two brothers and the youth with whom she had registered for marriage. This group, that initially had only 60 members, became a stronghold and by 2004 was able to conduct meetings at the Catholic Media Centre.
It also succeeded in creating the publication ‘Nadiya’ with the help of the Human Rights Office. It was able to support the efforts of the Bogambara-Dumbara Correctional Facility where its members took to teaching. During this timeframe, the group participated in almost all demonstrations which were a common front of searching for missing persons. This group has endured a long journey in the search for justice.
Since 2012, members of this group were able to go to the North to seek solace for their own brethren and to establish links to find the truth of the fate of these missing persons. Their search took on a powerful statement that ‘disappearance is a criminal offence.’ Honouring their perseverance and struggle to seek justice, the first tribute of the evening was awarded to the group of families seeking their loved ones. The award was received by Ms. Sheela Gannoruwa.
This group stood for what was right and dismissed compensations offered to them. They also rejected the temporary death certificates given to them. Their ultimate goal was to find what truly happened to their loved ones and to gain confirmation on the events that transpired leading to their disappearance
Rev. Sister Mabel Rodrigo taught geography at Bauddha Maha Vidyalaya at Jakandula in Kurukuliya, who belonged to the order of Saint Paul. She was young and was known to always lend a patient hearing to the woes of young schoolgirls. She saw in herself the calling of God and in 1984 entered University of Saint Louis in the Philippines where she earned her PhD. From 1985,Sister Rodrigo was actively engaged in the activities of youth in the Philippines, following which she entered Saint Anthony’s College as a trauma counsellor. In 2000, she was at Hindagala Saint Paul’s Convent in Kandy and became a counsellor at Peradeniya University’s Newman Society. During this period and under the guidance of Rev. Nandana Manatunge who was the SETIK Director and later at the Kandy Parish Media Centre, she became a trauma counsellor for those who were brought under police protection for multiple reasons.
In 2008, at the Kandy Human Rights Office, she engaged herself in the needs of those who were tortured and sexually assaulted. In addition, Sister Rodrigo engaged herself in the area of those who were unlawfully jailed and upon their return, saw that they were counselled. She was also engaged in the process of ‘testimony therapy’ for those families that needed the courage to live with dignity among the community.
In 2011, Sister Rodrigo took upon the task of counselling those families whose loved ones had disappeared. Without any hesitation, she was able to bring together those of the South and the North who were in need of peace. She did not leave it at that, but continued to find ways and means to give the younger g eneration counselling.
Sister Rodrigo went a step further and went into the field of carbonic cultivation in the North among those whose loved ones had disappeared and advised them to cultivate and plant one tree in the name of the disappeared. In addition to this concept, she set about in counselling those families whose loved ones had faced the war and are no more. She offered them the mental ability to stand on their own. For commitment in the field of trauma counselling and her ability to continue in counselling in other fields, Sister Rodrigo was felicitated at the event.
Sampath Abeykoon founded the ‘Matale Youth Sampath Circle’ at a crucial time when everything was at a standstill in terms of uplifting mental health. He carried forward with the slogan “say no to war” or “peace means life serving as a promoter of peace to people in need.”
Born in Matale in 1975, Sampath Abeykoon commenced his education at ChristChurchCollege, Matale and was engaged in the medical outfit of Saint John’s Ambulance Brigade where his prowess made him a consultant of their services.
By 2000, a post was offered to this young gentleman in ‘Yukthiya’ and ‘Ravaya’ and by 2007,Sampath came in contact with Sunanda Deshapriya and was in the field with him on ‘media reviews’ because he served as a human rights activist. In 2007, Sampath involved himself with the website ‘groundviews’ in order to secure the human rights of all.
His commitment to uphold democracy and for his untiring work with the voiceless people of Sri Lanka in defending and campaigning for their rights as a journalist and human rights activist, he was saluted by the Human Rights Office.