Sri Lanka: Amnesty International hosts “Memory and Justice” – day of activities and poetry book launch

Amnesty International will be hosting a day of activities around the theme of “Memory and Justice” in Colombo on 24 January 2016 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute.

The day of activities will be a platform for a series of workshops and art exhibits.

Amnesty International will also be launching Silenced Shadows, the published collection of winning entries from the human rights organization’s October 2015 poetry competition on the theme of enforced disappearances.

“Every community in Sri Lanka has been affected by enforced disappearances. We want this day to not only serve as memory of what happened, but to call on the Sri Lankan government to criminalize enforced disappearances and consign them to history once and for all,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert.

The poetry competition

In October 2015, Amnesty International invited Sri Lankans in the country and across the world to submit poems around the theme of enforced disappearances.

Sri Lanka is the country with the second highest number of enforced disappearances, according to the United Nations. Some estimates have put the total number of people who have been subject to enforced disappearances at up to 100,000 people.

“Disappearances have been a tragic fact of life for far too many Sri Lankans for far too long. Many families are still searching for lost loved ones, and many others have sadly given up hope of seeing them ever again,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert.

The Amnesty International poetry competition offered a creative space and an opportunity to share reflections to this national tragedy in English, Tamil and Sinhala.

The competition drew an impressive breadth of entries, from people of different backgrounds. The poems were then judged by distinguished international literary figures.

The winners

There are 15 winners of the poetry competition – five for each language.

In English, the winners are: Malathi de Alwis, Ria Rameez, Basil Fernando, Shash Trevett, and Hasitha Wickremasinghe

In Sinhala, the winners are: S. Dhanushka Madushanka Keerthiratha, Punya Samarakoon, Jayani Abeysakara, Noran Yasisal, and Lalith Manage

In Tamil, the winners are: Raheema Faizal, Daya Thevi, Keshayinie Edmund, Joseph Daniel, Theban Sivapalan

Workshop activities

The day of activities will include workshops with:

Valeria Barbuto, of Memoria Abierta  

Anthropologist (University of Buenos Aires), with postgraduate studies in Cultural Management (Universidad Nacional de San Martín– UNSAM Argentina) and in Democratization and Human Rights (Universidad Nacional de Chile). She’s a researcher of the Political and Legal Anthropology Team of the School of Philosophy and Letters, Universidad de Buenos Aires. She’s Director of Memoria Abierta, an alliance of eight Argentine human rights organizations working together to promote social memory about the human rights violations in the past, the actions of resistance and the struggle for truth and justice, to reflect on the present and strengthen democracy. Memoria Abierta cataloged and provides access to various institutional and personal archives; produces an oral archive; contributes to the visibility of the places used in the repression; prepares thematic resources for outreach and educational purposes; and contributes with the legal cases. She’s a member of the Board of Human Rights Organizations of the Espacio para la Memoria ex ESMA (memory site in Buenos Aires), as representative of the organization Center for Legal and Social Studies 

Spoken word poet Anthony Anaxogorou ( 

Anthony Anaxagorou is an award-winning poet, short story writer, publisher and poetry educator. He has published several volumes of poems and essays, a spoken word EP and a collection of short stories whilst having also written for theatre. His poetry has appeared on both national television and radio as well as being published in various literary magazines and anthologies.  He was a judge for the 2016 BBC Young Writers Award and is currently the poet in residence at several London schools where he teaches poetry and creative writing. In 2015 his poetry and fiction writing won him the Groucho Maverick Award and in 2016 he was shortlisted for the Hospital Club’s H-100 award. Anthony founded Out-Spoken in 2012 and Out-Spoken Press in 2013. His work has subsequently been studied in universities, schools and colleges across the USA, U.K and Australia, as well as being translated into Spanish, German, French and Japanese.

Other elements: 

A petition or wall banner to campaign for disappearances to be made a crime.

Dance performance

Memory Tree – an interactive space to share memories of the disappeared

Exhibition of poems

Booth with a laptop for video

Stall run by journalists commemorating colleagues who have disappeared

Besides these fixed activities, some of the day will also be informal: people dropping in, chatting to us, looking at stalls on the other side, eating lunch and drinking tea/coffee.