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Remembering Sunila: A Tribute to the life and work of Sunila Abeysekera

In deep sorrow, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) mourns the loss of Sunila Abeysekera, one of our founding members and a courageous women human rights defender who had fought and contributed greatly to human rights and justice in Sri Lanka, in the South Asian region and globally. Sunila passed away in Colombo on 9 September, 2013 after a long battle with cancer.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

19th September 2013 17:44

Alessia Valenza

Sunila had worked tirelessly as a feminist, human rights advocate, activist and scholar for over 40 years. Her activism in defending human rights covered various issues including violence against women, peace building and conflict transformation, sexual and reproductive rights, and the rights of commonly excluded and discriminated against communities such as sex workers, ethnic minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay and transgender people. Apart from her role as a passionate feminist and prominent woman human rights defender, she was also a vibrant artist – a great singer, actress, theatre and film critic, writer and orator.

Sunila was always invested in pushing the boundaries of the human rights movement, always ready to make vision a reality. Sunila helped guide the creation of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) in the mid 2000s. Since the establishment of the WHRD IC, Sunila had actively engaged and inspired the Coalition in conceptualizing the work of women human rights defenders (WHRDs), calling for their recognition and a focus on their work, the need to deepen understanding about the gender-specific dimensions of the violence experience by WHRDs, and the need to highlight the different contexts that WHRDs are working and living in and the resulting specific risks they face, especially for the most marginalized. Sunila helped to build a vibrant Coalition that has brought women’s organizations, and human rights and sexual rights groups together to push the boundaries of human rights analysis and practice.

Our heartfelt condolences go to Sunila’s friends and family as they mourn her loss.

Friends and colleagues of Sunila have created a website to pay loving tribute to her at We are also sharing our memories and appreciation of Sunila on Facebook and Twitter using the hastag #rememberingsunila.

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