Madeline England

Madeline England (Home for Human Rights – HHR): Madeline received her BA in economics from Mount Holyoke College in 2002. She then worked as a legal assistant for a London law firm and as an outreach coordinator for the Women’s Anti-Violence Education program in Philadelphia. From 2004 to 2006, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa, where she helped women entrepreneurs to coordinate marketing campaigns and business plans. At the time of her fellowship, Madeline was pursuing a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration in Human Rights at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, Madeline wrote: "The fellowship was an infinitely valuable experience. I learned more about human rights advocacy and research, exactly as I was hoping, and I also gained experience working in a conflict zone. It helped me to develop the skills and understanding to work with community-based human rights organizations."

My First Day

30 May

Two nights ago, I had a nightmare. A team of police officers would be waiting outside the HHR office for me on my first day of work. They knew about my visa application, knew I would be working at HHR, and were there to arrest me for contravening the country’s new work visa policy. I woke up at 2 a.m. unable to go back to sleep, although admittedly this was due as much to jet lag as my nightmare.

At breakfast a few hours later, I started talking to the man staying across the hall from me. He launched into a monologue on his work (studying Buddhist artifacts), his recent discovery (a Buddhist footprint), and the controversy it has caused (every Ivy League university is plagiarizing him or refuting the discovery).

I started to wonder if I am similarly submerged in my own existence. (I say this with all due respect to Dr. Sailer, as it is very possible that his discovery is the Buddhist equivalent of finding the Holy Grail and I simply don’t understand.) Are my concerns about my visa valid or do I have grandiose notions of my own importance? After all that HHR has accomplished over the past decades, does the government particularly care about my three month contribution? Probably not. Don’t they have better things to do? Probably. Don’t I? Definitely.

My first day turned out to be like many first days. I arrived at the office, a beautiful, open, airy building with an archway (I love archways) and a charming hut outside where we all eat lunch. At least it seemed that way to me because everyone was so welcoming. Needless to say, no police officers were in sight. I read HHR’s annual reports and quarterly journal to familiarize myself with their work. I spoke with my boss, Mr. Francis Xavier, by telephone as he is in Canada at the moment.

HHR’s quarterly journal introduced me to the story of Mr. Nallaratnam Singarasa. Arrested when he was 19 and convicted a year later of planning attacks against the government, Mr. Singarasa is now in his twelfth year of a 35 year sentence. He is 32. His conviction has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka even though he retracted his confession, the sole basis of his conviction, and no other evidence has been provided. It has been upheld even though Mr. Singarasa confessed in Tamil, and no independent interpreter was present to translate to Sinhalese. It has been upheld even though a police officer typed the confession in Sinhalese, a language which Mr. Singarasa does not speak, read, or write, and forced Mr. Singarasa to sign with his thumbprint. It has been upheld even though Mr. Singarasa has testified that the confession was only provided after hours of torture. It has been upheld even though the officer pulled a piece of paper from a file cabinet and typed the confession while looking at that paper.

The reason for such a decision is based on the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979, which shifts the burden of proof to the defendent. Imagine living in a country where you are guilty until you prove your own innocence.

To say I felt small after reading that article and thinking back to my nervous insomnia is, quite obviously, an understatement.

Posted By Madeline England

Posted May 30th, 2007