UNDP salutes Sunila Abeysekera

Sep 16, 2013

Sunila Abeysekera, a renowned leader in women’s rights and defender of human rights, who died in Colombo in September 2013. (Photo: UNDP)

UNDP mourns the loss of Sunila Abeysekera, a renowned leader in women’s rights and defender of human rights, who died of cancer in Colombo on 9 September 2013. She was 61.

A champion of women’s rights, particularly in Asia, Sunila founded the Women and Media Collective in Colombo in 1984. She was also a guiding force behind other Asian human rights networks, such as the Asian Forum for Human Rights Development and the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific. Her commitment to human rights defenders led her in 1984 to set up INFORM, a human rights documentation centre in Sri Lanka, and to organize the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, a network of women's rights, human rights and sexual rights organizations. She was a strong presence in the United Nations Human Rights Council for many years, bringing her tireless crusade for human rights to the UN arena.

Sunila was a founding member of the UNDP Civil Society Advisory Committee, which she joined in 2000. She was a driving force in the committee, in which she served as co-chair until last year. Her experience and advice greatly helped UNDP in devising policies and strategies on gender equality, human rights, and conflict prevention and peace building.

Most recently she participated in an experts’ group meeting on the UNDP gender equality strategy. In previous years, she helped UNDP in its work in the Asia region. She took part in a UNDP-civil society mission in Sri Lanka to examine the devastating impacts of the tsunami of 2004; she also brought critical human rights perspectives to help frame the debate on the Millennium Development Goals during the first Asian sub-regional meeting to advance the MDGs, organized in Lao PDR in 2003.

Born in Sri Lanka on Sept. 4, 1952, Sunila was educated in Colombo and received a master’s degree from the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague in 1994.

Her many honours include the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, conferred upon her by then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

UNDP is honoured by its association with Sunila and deeply grateful for her contribution to our work. We salute her for the courage, compassion and humanity with which she addressed critical issues of women’s rights and human rights, peace and justice. Her ideals will continue to guide our work in the years to come.

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