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."

The Untold Stories

12 Jul

As I was leaving the office yesterday, one of the HHR staff came and told me news that he had just received from our Batticaloa office in the Eastern province.

A girl, 22 years old, was abducted from a safe house where she was living with 19 other girls. She was raped and stabbed to death.

Last semester one of my professors talked about how to construct a human rights “argument.” In other words, how do we present our case so that it captures the world’s attention as a human rights violation?

Amnesty International, for example, is known for highlighting the experiences of particular individuals to make the abuse more personal and real. Human Rights Watch relies on its reputation for unbiased statistics and thorough research.

At this moment, sitting here in HHR’s Colombo office, I am a little stunned. I came into the office early this morning, wanting to see the overnight news reported on this incident. Instead I found…nothing. No news. No one has told, so no one has heard.

Oh, there are several stories about Sri Lanka. The national cricket team is in a tournament that I won’t even pretend to understand. Also, did you know the government has pushed the LTTE out of the East and regained control of the province for the first time in 14 years? Everyone is talking about that.

But as usual, the innocent victims get lost in the shuffle. The world hears about the conflict, the two opposing violent voices, and nothing about the innocent victims. One more rape, one more death, one more number.

So it is our duty, the HHR staff and myself, as human rights advocates to tell the world. It is our responsibility to make the argument. I understand it needs to be done. I understand the world needs to be told. I understand that if I tell you everything I heard yesterday, you might understand how dangerous this conflict is for Sri Lankan civilians living in these areas.

But part of me balks. There are certain things that I cannot say in this blog, for the safety of the HHR staff and the victims. But right now there is something that I just do not want to say.

Shouldn’t it be enough to know she was raped and murdered? Shouldn’t it be enough that she is not the first and will not be the last?

Do I really need to describe the excruciatingly brutal crime in detail for the world to care that gang rape and murder have been institutionalized here?

I could. I heard enough yesterday. But I don’t want to. I think her privacy, like the women before her, has been violated far too much already. I think it should be enough to say that this rape happened, that such rapes are not unknown here, and that the government is doing nothing to stop them or investigate.

Perhaps my unwillingness to expose the brutality in this case or the other rape cases makes me a bad human rights advocate. I can’t “construct the argument” as my professor would say. I don’t know.

But really, you don’t want me to tell you. Because then you won’t be able to sleep at night either.

Posted By Madeline England

Posted Jul 12th, 2007


  • Natalie

    July 17, 2007


    In the US, I think a lot of the lack of interest is the distance between the safety and security of, for the most part, middle class existence and the tragedy that you address in your blog.

    I am always disgusted by what is on the news. You turn it on, and if there is talk about rape, murder, war, it is always framed, not in a fact-centered way with the goal of raising awareness and rallying people to work for change. The news is worded in a way to instill fear and distance – stay away from Southeast DC, people get shot there.

    There are areas of the world that never make the news in the US – Sri Lanka being one of them. AP’s news service is a good start to attempting to raise awareness, but it is so far from disseminating as news of Paris Hilton does; people are encouraged not to care, simply by the information that is made available to them.

  • madeline

    July 18, 2007


    Thanks, all, for your comments. My initial frustration that this was not reported has given way to the understanding that many people in the East are not reporting incidents right now due to fear of retaliation. It is a very precarious time. This story still would not have made US headlines, but the local sentiment explains why no one is speaking of this locally.

    For anyone interested, the Reuters Foundation maintains a website for reporting many of the international incidents and emergencies that are often overlooked in the mainstream American media:


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