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 cycle of violence

29 Jun

Does ethnic tension create the conflict? Or does the conflict create ethnic tension?

A number of events clearly demonstrate that some sort of ethnic tension did exist prior to the First Eelam War in 1983, including:

-The disenfranchisement of Tamil tea plantation workers in 1949.
-Anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1958, and 1977.
-Changing the country’s name to Ceyland and emphasizing Buddhism as the religion, antagonizing the Tamil (mostly Hindu) minority in 1972.

A new report from Minority Rights Group International has addressed the issue that conflicts such as the one in Sri Lanka that “could have been prevented flare up, as warning signs provided by minority rights violations go unheeded.”

Could have, would have, should have. The conflict has exacerbated this tension beyond words.

A girl from my office says she does not like to wear her pottu (the mark between a girl’s eyebrows indicative of Tamil ethnicity) when she leaves Tamil neighborhoods since she knows the police will hassle her. A British expat told me a story where he went out with a couple of friends one night, one of them being a Tamil female. When they were stopped by police to check IDs, the police accused her of being a prostitute for being out so late at night. The police used her cell phone to call her parents and tell them that their daughter is a prostitute.

Hatred is something learned. When people are only hearing one point of view, it is natural to think that news is the correct version.

Sinhalese people, rarely literate in Tamil, only read or hear the Sinhalese and occasionally English versions of the news. Tamil people, rarely literate in Sinhalese, only read or hear the Tamil and occasionally English versions of the news. All of these papers take an angle on the conflict, so few people receive fair and unbiased reporting.

When the government expels Tamils from Colombo and (allegedly) bans TamilNet in Sri Lanka, it starts to highlight the different ethnicities even more. As Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch said, “Nothing could be more inflammatory in Sri Lanka’s polarized climate than identifying people by ethnicity and kicking them out of the capital.”

I fear what will happen if the LTTE and government become more desperate, take more steps to highlight the differences, if minority rights are not addressed now.

As recent events in the Gaza Strip have shown, things can always get worse.

Posted By Madeline England

Posted Jun 29th, 2007


  • Ajith

    August 7, 2007


    Dear Madeline, I think you are constantly talking to tamils in your Human Rights office and only see from the Tamil point of View. Buddhism was given main religious status as in other democratic nations like USA (In God We trust – in the dollar), UK – Queen is teh head of State and head of Church etc. Please see it correctly. Not by the ethnic angel. There are 75% Buddhists in the country and British rule favoured Christianity more. Buddhism and Hinduism existed long time side by side in Sri Lanka. 1972 name was change from Celon to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is our old name.

  • madeline

    August 8, 2007


    Hi, Thanks from your comment, but I honestly don’t believe that I see things from the Tamil point of view. I see things from the people’s view. This blog is about my experiences with human rights advocacy, and yes, my work does tend to show me the rights violations against Tamils more often than against Sinhalese or Muslims. But I have also written about the indirect effects of the conflict on tourism after I spent a weekend staying in an Unawatuna guesthouse with a Sinhalese owner (see the post of 6/24/07).

    You seem to be implying that my writing about human rights abuse of Tamils suggests that I am taking a political stand. I just want peace, and from what I have heard from people who have been in the center of the conflict for 25 years, that is what the people of Jaffna want as well. But yes, I do think equality begets peace, so equal recognition of the Tamil language and Hinduism with Sinhalese and Buddhism would be one step the government could take towards peace. Unfortunately they seem to be encouraging the divisions rather than healing them.

    As for “In God We Trust,” there is a school of thought that it should be removed from the US currency and Christian prayer should not be allowed in public schools since the United States has so many faiths. I agree. I think any government should represent all of its people equally. I am nothing if not consistent.

    Even if I were to agree with you that Buddhism should be given priority as a religion and Sinhalese as a language (which I don’t), that does nothing to justify or explain the human rights violations that are being committed by both the government and the LTTE.

  • Ajith

    August 13, 2007


    Even if I were to agree with you that Buddhism should be given priority as a religion and Sinhalese as a language –
    Madeline –
    I don’t think I was saying anywhere that I want Buddhism as State religion or Sinhala as State Language. All the people who worked with you perhaps did not tell you that STATE Languages in Democratic Sri lanka ARE -English, Sinhla and Tamil. In 1956 Sinhala was made State language (which was wrong – but reason was not Tamils but Discrimination by British) and process reversed later by adding English and Tamil as State Languages. I learned tamil in my school Royal College. You c an check with the school that they teach tamil to Sinhala students even though US do not seem to teach Spanish to anybody.
    And then Hindu and Buddhist religion existed long enough together with Christianity and other religions as well. We did not have problems then until these Yehovahs witenesses and scientologist appeared and start giving money to people to convert. You should agree that is wrong even in US or Britain. What my point of Buddhism as state religion is justified not that is my opinion but looking at the world who criticizes Sri lanka including your own Counry US. Saudi Arabia even does not allow any temples to built in its lands. Pakistan, Induneasia, Bangladesh to name few calls themselves Islamic states even though they have large minorities of Buddhists and Christians. Italy is a Catholic country which RC is the state religion. Attacking poor Sri lanka and Buddhists does not warrent a justification thinking about wider concept in the world. It’s like if no Christianity is the main religion then other religions should not given chance including Buddhism. That duplicity and double standard led to create fundamentalist Buddhist monks like JHU (Which I do not like at all) and fundamentalist Islamists in other countries.

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