Sue Diaz



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Abstract or Description

In the following pages, you will find narrative stories about a Woman PeaceMaker, along with additional information to provide a deep understanding of a contemporary conflict and one person’s journey within it. These complementary components include a brief biography of the peacemaker, a historical summary of the conflict, a timeline integrating political developments in the country with personal history of the peacemaker, and a question-and-answer transcript of select interviews during her time at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

Nimalka Fernando of Sri Lanka is a prominent human rights defender, lawyer and activist with over 30 years of peacemaking experience. She is a co-chair of South Asians for Human Rights and the president of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) — an organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination and racism, forging international solidarity among discriminated minorities, and advancing the international human rights system.

A Sinhala Christian woman in Sri Lanka, Fernando is of the majority ethnic community but a religious minority — giving her a unique perspective on the bloody conflict that has polarized communities across the island for decades. As a colleague of hers has written, “Through Ms. Fernando’s biography it is possible to register key social movements in Sri Lanka, in South Asia, and globally.”

Fernando first became involved in human rights work with the Student Christian Movement of Sri Lanka, and then the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, which sparked in her an interest in law for social justice. The Voice of Women, the first feminist circle in Sri Lanka composed of professional and progressive women, further influenced Fernando as violence and political tensions continued to rise in the 1980s between the Sinhala government and Tamil separatists.

In frustration with the Sri Lankan legal system that failed to provide redress for egregious human rights abuses, Fernando moved into community development work and full-time activism — exposing her to severe repression by the state which viewed her as pro-Tamil. She was forced out of the country for a time.

While in exile, Fernando worked for the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development and became engaged in international advocacy at U.N. conferences and through networks working on minority rights. During the peace process mediated by Norway in the early 2000s, Fernando was involved in track-two negotiations and participated in the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in Sri Lanka, while continuing her grassroots peacebuilding activities.

Fernando has been a founding member of several organizations, including a network of women’s organizations and activists committed to peacebuilding, known as Mothers and Daughters of Lanka. In 2011 she received the Citizen’s Peace Award from the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. She continues to face repression and threats for her fervent calls for accountability for alleged war crimes committed during the war.

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peacebuilding, Women PeaceMakers, Sri Lanka


Peace and Conflict Studies

BUSYBODY FOR PEACE: The Life and Work of  Nimalka Fernando of Sri Lanka