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Juniata Hosts Sri Lankan Peace Activist at Global Fellow

(Posted March 16, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Visaka Dharmadasa, a Sri Lankan peace activist and founder and chair of Servicemen Missing in Action and the Association of War-Affected Women, will be the first Global Fellow at Juniata College's Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies and will co-teach peace and conflict studies courses at the college from Monday, March 15 to March 27.
"Human rights activists like Visaka bring the sharp and edifying edge of experience to peace and conflict studies -- that after thinking and evolving, we must act," says Richard Mahoney, professor of peace studies and director of the Baker Institute. "The fact that she has done so in a combat zone makes her both admirable and critical in terms of our understanding the power of conflict intervention. Visaka will be lecturing on everything from how to demobilize and disarm in a civil war to women and peacebuilding in classes, a faculty seminar and campus-wide presentation."

The Baker Institute established the Global Fellow program to bring in activists and international experts on peace and conflict resolution to teach and interact with students. In addition to her teaching, Dharmadasa will give a public lecture on "Sri Lanka Today" at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, March 19, in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science.

Dharmadasa became an activist when her son was reported missing in action while serving in the Sri Lankan army. She has made presentations across Sri Lanka and the world, talking to soldiers, youth and community leaders on creating standards of conduct during times of war.

She has worked for the past 20 years to end the civil war that has afflicted Sri Lanka for decades. She also has served as a trusted mediator between leaders of the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam and the Sri Lankan government.

She continues to work with the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, coordinating programs for war-affected women and facilitating workshops on reconciliation and rehabilitation.

Dharmadasa serves as secretary of the Kandy Association for War-Affected Families and is a member of the South Asia Small Arms Network, a group working against the misuse of small arms and light weapons. She also is a member of the National Commission Against Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms.

Her work in protest of the Sri Lankan civil war has included organizing a petition project calling upon the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers to end the civil war. The petition, titled "Mobilizing Mothers for Peace," collected more than 100,000 signatures.

She also wrote an analysis of how the peace process has failed in Sri Lanka and presented it to Yasushi Akashi, the Japanese special envoy for the Sri Lankan peace process. She also recently filed a lawsuit against the Sri Lankan government to force DNA testing on soldier's remains. The lawsuit seeks to give families the ability to confirm the death of a relative in combat.

She received the 2006 InterAction Humanitarian Award for her work in Sri Lanka.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.