Sri Lanka: Fr. Nandana Manatunga, director of member organisation Human Rights Office-Kandy, receives prestigious 2018 Gwangju Human Rights Award


by Sen Nguyen, Gwangju News

Diploma in Human Rights Training… diploma in Youth Pastoral & Faith Education… diploma in Foundations for Pastoral Renewal… diploma in Development Dynamics… diploma in Leadership… So reads the educational background of Father Nandana Manatunga – winner of the 2018 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. This award is an annual dedication to the people’s spirit of the May 18 Democratization Movement hosted by the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

As I was waiting for Manatunga’s response, I was sitting on a bench with a cup of coffee in front of the Yongbong-gwan building at Chonnam National University. This was where the student protest started that led to the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. As a human rights activist myself, I am curious about how others got started in the same relentless fight against social injustice. For Manatunga, the impetus was seeing his compatriots being tortured, burnt, and killed on the roadside and thrown into the river.

It was during the second year of his priesthood in Sri Lanka that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Youth Insurrection – also known as the 1989 Revolt – hit its climax. It was organized by the left-wing nationalist Sinhalese JVP against the Sri Lankan government under President J. R. Jayewardene. Occurring from 1988 to 1989, the unfortunate incidents resulted in over 60,000 deaths, including many who did not have any connection with the JVP. Many people “disappeared” or were killed by security forces and paramilitary groups who operated under the authorization of the government.

Fr Nandana decided to do something about it. He visited several police stations and army camps to get some of the youth released and provide security for those who were being searched for by the security forces. Fr Nandana recounts the incident that changed his life: “Once when I was traveling alone in my van, a man stopped me, got into my vehicle, and asked me to speed up. The stranger then got off at the bus stop and only then revealed that he had been taken to the cemetery to be shot, but he managed to escape.” And thus commenced Fr Nandana’s career as a human rights defender...

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Nandana Manatunga, Human rights office, Kandy, Sri Lanka, Gwangju Prize