23 October, 2020

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A Tribute To Sunila Abeyesekara

By AHRC

Sunila

Sunila Abeysekera passed away yesterday in Colombo. Born in 1952 she stood for the liberal values of equality, liberty and human rights at a very dark period in her country. By 1962, at the age of ten, a section of the country’s elite attempted a military coup. This coup symbolised the disillusionment of an important section of the country’s elite with democracy. The idea that some form of authoritarianism was needed for the country was expressed through this attempted coup. Though the coup failed the idea that authoritarianism might better suit the country than democracy did not fade away. By 1972, even the political parties which represented labour attempted to experiment some kind of leftist authoritarianism through the coalition government. They went to the extent of curtailing the power of the Supreme Court by removing the powers of judicial review. This was the first open attack on the independence of the judiciary. By 1978 a more complete form of authoritarianism was expressed through the constitution itself. Ever since, the country’s politics have moved to ever darkening authoritarianism. The adult life of Sunila Abeysekera was lived in this bleak period. She stood with those who stood for democracy and justice. Those who belonged to this category were often maligned and even portrayed as traitors. Supporting authoritarianism continued to be portrayed as patriotic. This mistreatment by her own people did not deter her and she stood to the last, true to the ideals of democracy.

It is perhaps symbolic that during the latter years of her life she had to put a struggle against cancer. Perhaps that was symbolic of a far deeper cancer of an entire nation that she witnessed throughout the better part of her life and against which she did whatever she could to combat together with others.

This is not an occasion to make a comprehensive assessment of her life. However, we must record, perhaps one of her most remarkable contributions. This was her courage to become a public spokesman during the period that is known as the period of terror, particularly between 1987 and 1991. This was a period in which large scale enforced disappearances took place in the country. There was an atmosphere of fear which intimidated many subduing them into silence.

 

Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, together with Sunila Abeysekera became the public speakers on behalf of the mothers of the disappeared persons during this time. A documentary produced by Nimal Mendis entitled, Three Women Speak, bears moving testimony to their courageous and compassionate commitment on behalf of the families of the disappeared from around the country. Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu was one of the unsung heroes of this time and Sunila stood with her. That original movement of the mothers of the disappeared needs to be recalled and better remembered with more awareness than it is now. It was unfortunate that unscrupulous persons took advantage of this movement and undermined it by trying to achieve their own limited political aims.

Together with her friends the Asian Human Rights Commission salutes Sunila and we extend our condolences to her family. 

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Latest comments

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    I bow my head in respect to a indefatigable champion of human rights. May we have more like her.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

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    Icon of peace is gone but the sprit is within us in order to create a world for all the species on earth!!!

    Dr.S.Jeyasankar

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      My thoughts are with her family and friends.

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    One less human rights activist for MR and his sycophants to worry about.

    Rest in peace Sunila.

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    Both father and daughter stood up to be counted in battling for the good of the citizen above the ethnic barrier – courageously and fearlessly. Her obituary in the daily papers speaks of her humanism. Society today, battling in different fronts, is poorer by the loss of a good and responsible citizen – a conscientious fighter.

    I join, head bowed, the thousands across the country in mourning a
    splendid daughter of Mother Lanka.

    Senguttuvan

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    My deepest condolences to the family. Specially to Subha.

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    You thought You wrote and you fought for the people who couldn’t. And when you part who they will turn to ? Mam you are a gem. a true gem of Sri Lanka. Please rest in peace.

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    She epitomises what is desperately needed in Sri Lanka today and sheds light on what is desperately lacking. Her commitment to liberal values, human rights and most importantly dialogue has set an example to the younger generation on the need to keep fighting and renders her a legacy that will last generations to come. Rest assured people will be talking about this lady for many years!

    Sachin Parathalingam

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    THE 62 ‘COUP’ WAS BECAUSE OF NATIONALISATION & RACISM.
    RATHER THAN TARGETING FOREIGNERS (IF NEED TO) TARGETING LOALS
    (now targeting Mulims who benefited from destroying our economic giants who drove our strong economy).
    RATHER THAN BIULDING NEW SCHOOLS, THE MAHA VIDYALAS WERE ROBBED, RENAMED CHURCH SCHOOLS.
    FROM ASIAS STROGEST ECONOMY AFTER ‘INDIPENDANCE’ TO ONE LOW ONE.
    TARGETED BURGHERS (THEY LEFT THE COUNTY) & TAMILS (30 YEAR WAR), MUSLIMS (CUNNING & LESS EFFECTIVE).

    IF IT HAD WORKED IT WOULD BE A DIFFERENT STORY; BETTER THAN MALAYSIA, SINGAPORE WHO WERE TRYING TO EMULATE US.

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    Providence could have spared Sunila to continue with her great work for some more time. Ihe human rights movement has lost a great icon Deepest sympathies to her family and her well wishers. May her soul rest in peace. Bensen

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    It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare. ~Mark Twain

    RIP Sunila.

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    “This (1962)Coup symbolised the disillusionment of an important section of the country’s elite with democracy. The idea that some form of authoritarianism was needed for the country was expressed through this attempted Coup.”

    One has to understand the 1962 attempted Coup in context and in the right perspective. Generally, no believer in democracy will support any Coup d’etat – benevolent or otherwise. But many at the time felt those men who attempted a change in the regime did so because they were “disillusioned” that there was too much of authoritarianism in the hands of young Felix Dias, in his 30s then with enormous power entrusted to him by his PM, feared a leftist take-over. It was common knowledge then leaders of the Coup had no intention to take over the country for them to run. Men like Col. F.C. de Saram, a relative of Mrs.B, had agreed between the coup leaders no harm should befall Mrs. B and that she should be kept safely. Provision was even made for her children to study in the UK. To her credit, after the aborted event, Mrs B had instructed that the leaders of the Coup should be treated well – a far cry from the manner in which our super-hero Sarath Fonseka was dragged away cursing and struggling. Felix Dias, many will recall, was fond of his “litte bit of totalitarianism” that he would have experimented with given half a chance. The fact is those engaged in the attempt were all acquitted through due process of the law. The senior Civil Servant Douglas Liyanage, accused No.1 – did well for the country as Secretary/State Ministry overseeing the Police and the 3 forces during 7/83 and thereafter until he had to resign on his visit to Israel – an ambitious visit duly authorised by the Govt, all to satisfy parochial political expediency.

    Some historians take the view with this 1962 Coup also began the arrival of Sinhala hardliners making their presence felt in the tri-forces – with the blessings of men like N.Q. Dias and P. de S. Kularatne counselling a monopoly of the army and the forces by majoritarian interests – a divisive trend that continues in a more pronounced way today.

    Senguttuvan

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      Senguttuvan

      Remember that was the time that nationalisation which was in vogue, as an instrument of achieving independence and self sufficiency started gaining momentum. It was mistakenly thought that it was needed to get rid of colonial legacy.

      Also the west saw the red menace engulfing Indian Ocean. Strategically Ceylon was considered to be an asset. The failed coup was said to be the handy work of Uncle Sam/British.

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    I salute Sunila for her courage and talent. It is very unfortunate to lose her at a young age. My condolences to her children, relatives and close friends.

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