Sri Lankan human rights activist receives Korean Church award

posted 24 Apr 2009, 18:56 by Stefan Gigacz
CCI Sri Lanka member, Ruki Fernando, has won the 2009 Tji Hak-soon Justice and Peace Award for his service to victims of ethnic conflict in his country, UCAN News reports.

Marius Rukshan Fernando

"I am very happy and honored to receive the award," said Marius Rukshan Fernando during the award presentation on April 21 in Seoul. "At the same time I feel sad because many people are still being killed."

Fernando was speaking to about 150 people from human rights and Church groups at the annual ceremony, the 12th since the award, honoring the late Bishop Daniel Tji of Wonju, was launched in 1997. The award includes a US$10,000 cash prize.

Korean Bishop Tji was jailed in 1974 for his involvement with dissident student activists. He was a leading senior spokesperson for the Korean Catholic Church against former military rulers in South Korea until he died on March 12, 1993, at the age of 72. The award honors those who carry on his spirit.

Fernando has worked as coordinator for the Law and Society Trust in Sri Lanka since 2007 in which he has committed himself to investigating and revealing the truth to the United Nations of those arrested or murdered by the Sinhalese-led government.

He was Asian coordinator for the International Young Christian Students and chief coordinator of the peace desk of the Social and Economic Development Center (Caritas-SEDEC), the Sri Lankan Catholic bishops' social service agency. He also worked at the Bangkok-based Forum-Asia where he ran a program supporting and protecting human rights activists.

The Sinhalese-Catholic pointed out that while only 16 percent of Sri Lanka's population is Tamil, most victims of Sri Lank's ongoing civil war are Tamils. "It is why I have to side with Tamils," he said in an interview.

Tamil rebels under the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group have been waging a war of independence against the Sinhalese-led government since 1983. The conflict has since claimed close to 80,000 lives.

Fernando stressed that "even if the government wins the war, the problem will remain because discrimination against Tamils is older than the war against the LTTE." He noted that the LTTE has also killed people.

Fernando also pointed out that some ethnic Tamil Catholic priests, active in protecting the human rights of Tamil people, were also killed.

Church media have reported that Father Nicholas Pillai Pakiaranjith, 40, was killed on Sept. 26, 2007 in a blast from a claymore mine while he was driving food and supplies to displaced people near Kilinochchi, in an area under the control of Tamil rebels.

Father Mariampillai Xavier Karunaratnam, a Jaffna diocese priest was killed on April 20, 2008 by a mine explosion in the jungle area of Vanni, then under LTTE control, while on his way back to his church after celebrating Sunday Mass in a parish sub-station.

Another priest, Father Thiruchelvam Nihal Jim Brown, 34, disappeared on Aug. 20, 2006, in Jaffna diocese's Allaipiddy parish, near Jaffna town.

Polycarp Choe Jae-seon, chairperson of the award's selection committee, said during the award presentation that Fernando had visited the Jaffna area, in Sri Lanka's northern tip where many Tamils were killed or had disappeared, tens of times. He had risked his life to investigate the reality there and reveal it to the world.

Fernando also officially raised the case of the three Catholic priests with the United Nations, said Choe.

CCI Convenor MJ Ruben offered his congratulations to Ruki Fernando on behalf of the movement.

SOURCE: Sri Lankan human rights activist receives Korean Church award