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Sri Lanka's Mano Ganesan Gives Voice to the Voiceless

Opposition member of Parliament wins U.S. human rights honor

by Jane Morse, US Dept. of State Information Service, December 10, 2007

Ganesan has documented the complicity of the Sri Lankan military and other high-ranking officials with the paramilitary groups responsible for grave human rights violations, pointing out that many have taken place in government-declared high security zones.

Ganesan’s exposure of these connections has earned him the wrath of the powerful and placed his life in jeopardy. 

 

Sri Lankans
Hundreds of Sri Lankans disappear yearly. Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera suspects government complicity. (© AP Images)

Washington -- In Sri Lanka, a person “disappears” every five hours, according to Mangala Samaraweera, the former foreign minister of Sri Lanka.

Abductions and extrajudicial killings are commonplace.

Mano Ganesan is working to change that.  Ganesan is a leading human rights activist and an opposition member of the Sri Lankan Parliament.

In 2006, Ganesan founded the Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC) and serves as its convener.  Relatives of those abducted, “disappeared” and killed often register their complaints with the CMC rather than with the police or the national Human Rights Commission, in which they have little confidence.  

Ganesan has documented the complicity of the Sri Lankan military and other high-ranking officials with the paramilitary groups responsible for grave human rights violations, pointing out that many have taken place in government-declared high security zones.

man holds a poster of a missing relative
A man holds a poster of a missing relative during a visit to Sri Lanka of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. (© AP Images)

Ganesan’s exposure of these connections has earned him the wrath of the powerful and placed his life in jeopardy.  On several occasions, when the threats to his life and safety became acute, Ganesan and his family were forced to flee Sri Lanka and seek temporary refuge in India.   

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice honored Ganesan’s efforts at a ceremony December 10 at the State Department in Washington, where Ganesan was named a runner-up for the first Freedom Defenders Award. The award, to be given annually, honors foreign activists and nongovernmental organizations that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to advancing liberty and courage in the face of adversity. The award is part of President Bush’s Freedom Agenda aimed at advancing freedom and democracy around the world.

Ganesan has described his mission as being a representative of Sri Lanka’s minorities and the “voiceless.”  He overcame stiff resistance from government officials when he arranged a meeting in October between U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and relatives of the victims of abductions and extra-judicial killings.

Ganesan also submitted detailed documentation to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, personally assisting activists from the two international human rights nongovernmental organizations when they visited Sri Lanka.  He set up meetings between the visiting representatives and victims’ relatives for the exchange of firsthand information about human rights abuses.

Born in 1959, Ganesan is the son of the late V.P. Ganesan, a Tamil trade unionist who formed the Democratic Workers’ Congress. Mano is past president of the group’s political wing.

Mano Ganesan entered politics as a provincial councilor for the Western province.  He ran successfully for Parliament in December 2001 and was re-elected in April 2004.

He established the Western People’s Front in 2000 to represent Tamils of the greater Colombo area, which he continues to lead.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)