Ruki Fernando

Sri Lankan human rights defender
Sri Lanka
DTP facilitates solidarity and networking among human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific... DTP has played a significant role in forging these relationships across the borders of the nation-states.

Ruki Fernando is a experienced Sri Lankan human rights activist, writer, and human rights trainer, with lived experience of engaging the UN system in defence of human rights, and of building human rights movement in Sri Lanka and Asia.

Ruki is also a highly valued DTP trainer, sharing his specialist knowledge and insights on engaging UN human rights mechanisms, advocacy for the protection and security of human rights defenders, and engaging diplomats on human rights.

Ruki became gradually interested in human rights through his involvement in the church based youth movement. The civil war in Sri Lanka played a significant role in shaping Ruki’s interest in human rights as Ruki began working with survivors of human rights violations, victims families and communities affected by war and violence.

Ruki’s commitment as a human rights defender and changemaker has touched many lives in Sri Lanka and beyond. Ruki has trained school and university level students, religious clergy, government officials, and human rights defenders across Sri Lanka, and he has trained human rights defenders in other countries, including through DTP.

Most recently, Ruki trained in DTP’s latest Annual Human Rights and Peoples’ Diplomacy training in Bangkok in January 2023. In Ruki’s opinion, DTP is a meaningful and impactful human rights training program, helping to build solidarity among regional human rights advocates.

“DTP facilitates solidarity and networking among human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific. At the recent training we had a particular session on what solidarity means. It was very significant and exciting to see and hear that those activists from local and national organisations strongly believe and support in solidarity actions for rights violations that happen in other parts of the world. During the training itself, some participants engaged in solidarity actions to support youth led protests in Bangkok. So, in that sense, DTP has played a significant role in forging these relationships across the borders of the nation-states.”

Ruki’s also values DTP’s emphasis on the practicality of human rights advocacy.

“One of the sessions I conducted was about using the UN special procedures, and I saw that a couple of the participants started to write complaints about UN special procedures. After my session, they also contacted me. I felt DTP’s impact on the participants.”

Ruki helped DTP organise its Annual Regional Human Rights and Peoples’ Diplomacy Training Program in Sri Lanka in 2016. He remembers that one of the training sessions he managed was about engagement with the diplomatic community. “As part of practical exercise, I organised some meetings with some of the diplomatic community in Colombo for the participants from different countries.”

Ruki did this again at the program in Bangkok, helping participants to prepare for engagement with Australian diplomats, and sharing with them the Human Rights Defenders Guidelines, adopted by many countries, which emphasise the role of diplomats in the promotion of human rights.

Ruki knows from his own personal experience the value of UN human rights mechanisms and of effective international solidarity. His work for human rights in Sri Lanka, including mentoring young generations in documenting human rights violations made him a target of the Sri Lankan state.

On March 17, 2014, Ruki and his colleague Rev. Praveen Mahesan were arrested while engaged in a fact finding visit about stream of arrests in former war affected region. They had themselves become victims of the violations they were advocating to stop. Ruki’s friends and colleagues across the country and world acted with urgency, the UN was mobilised, diplomats made representations and approximately 51 hours later, they were released. International solidarity worked, but many others who have not had that much support and solidarity had been held much longer.

Ruki knows the road he has taken as a human rights defender is long, but he is hopeful. In Sri Lanka, “we’ve seen some communities regaining lands occupied by military through street protests and non-violent direct actions, some military and policemen being held accountable through judicial systems for torture and extrajudicial executions and last year, authoritarian, corrupt and racist ruling family being toppled from power by mostly youth led people’s protests”.

The struggles and courage of survivors’ and their families’ and the families of victims, and their determination to ensure justice give Ruki hope. It is one of the reasons he invests his time in training others.

March 2023

Some recent articles by Ruki:

Rohingya Refugees in Sri Lanka (December 2022)

Panama – renewed land struggles (January 2023)

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