Human Rights Watch reports:
Human Rights Watch mourns the death of Sunila Abeysekera, a prominent and highly respected Sri Lankan activist who spent more than two decades documenting human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Abeysekera passed away in Colombo on September 9, 2013, following a long illness.
With a rare ability to act as researcher, advocate, and spokesperson within Sri Lanka and abroad, Abeysekera was internationally recognized as one of South Asia’s preeminent human rights activists.
During Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, Abeysekera refused to take sides, denouncing abuses by both the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Her fierce commitment for the rights of all civilians regardless of ethnicity won her broad-based respect. She faced death threats for her work in an environment which both during and after the war was dangerous for human rights defenders. In spite of these threats, she frequently took her message to the United Nations and other international venues, where she was a combative defender for justice.
Abeysekera was a leading activist on behalf of the human rights of women in Sri Lanka and globally. She recognized that Sri Lanka’s civil war had a terrible impact on the lives of countless women and children. “Women and children are the first victims of any kind of conflict,” Abeysekera said.
Abeysekera started her first career as a drama critic but Sri Lanka’s internal conflicts quickly pulled her from the stage. She entered the human rights field, and became the executive director of INFORM, a nongovernmental organization that exposed serious abuses and sought to bring institutional change in the country. Abeysekera struggled against the entrenched culture of impunity to hold perpetrators accountable for enforced disappearances, killings of civilians of all ethnicities, and the protection of those displaced by Sri Lanka’s armed conflict.