Kumi Samuel, a former PWRDF board member, is active in peace building and women’s issues in her native country of Sri Lanka.
Churches have played an important part in supporting human rights in Sri Lanka, where a drawn-out civil war has recently gained new energy, according to a former member of the board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.
“The (Roman) Catholic church is very active in raising human rights concerns. The Anglican bishop there, Duleep de Chickera, is extra good. He has spoken out against the war,” said Kumudini (Kumi) Samuel, who served on the PWRDF committee and board from 1997 to 2005. Ms. Samuel spoke in a session with staff at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto. She was in the country to attend a board meeting of the World University Service of Canada, a development agency that links individuals and post-secondary institutions.
Ms. Samuel directs an organization called the Women and Media Collective, which has received funding from PWRDF. Based in Colombo with a staff of 10, it is currently working on such issues as peace building among Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim citizens.
Since 1983, the majority Sinhalese, represented by the government, have been at war with a separatist movement representing the minority Tamil people. A 2001 ceasefire between the military and the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam collapsed in 2005.
In a 2007 report, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, stated that “escalating political killings, child recruitment, abductions and armed clashes created a climate of fear” in several areas of Sri Lanka. It also outlined concerns about violence against women, the death penalty and “numerous reports of torture in police custody.” The country also has a large number of “disappearances” of people taken into custody, said Ms. Samuel.
The Primate’s Fund maintains ongoing support for conflict resolution groups, human rights groups and women’s organizations in Sri Lanka.
Ms. Samuel’s organization, which was started in 1984, is also working on land for women issues that have arisen after the devastating tsunami in December, 2004. “After the tsunami, state land was being given to men, in traditional patterns,” she said.
Women make up just five per cent of the legislature and women’s groups are strategizing how to enter the political process. Looking at representation of women in the media was an early goal of the collective, she noted. “When there was a peace process, we advocated to get women represented at the table and participated in a subcommittee on gender issues,” she said.