Visaka Dharmadasa, is a peace activist from Sri Lanka.In recognition of her work for peace, Visaka was nominated for a collective Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 as part of the 1000 Peace Women Across the Globe and was awarded the prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2006 by Inter Action of Washington. She is a member of the South Asia Small Arms network, Women Waging Peace, and sits on the global advisory council of Women Thrive World Wide.She also work on disseminating the content of UN resolution 1325 on women peace and security, calling for the inclusion of women at all levels of peace building and decision making., She trains women to run to political office and also on power sharing. She was awarded the prestigious Humanitarian award for 2006 by the Inter Action of Washington DC an NGO consortium comprises of 160 non governmental organizations. In coordination with the “1000 Peace women across the globe” movement, she was nominated for a collective Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She is a network member of Inclusive Security Women Waging Peace, and a member of the expert pool of Resolution to Act, as well of the global advisory council of Women thrive World Wide, a member of Global Network of Women Peace builders and governing council of National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. Visaka Dharmadasa holds a degree in negotiations and mediation skills from the United States Institute for Peace, Washington, and in women and security from Harvard University, Cambridge, USA.
Her son, a soldier in the Sri Lankan military, went missing after a Tamil Tigers attack on a military base in 1998. The thought of her 21 year old son missing in action continues to trouble Visaka even today. “If you know your son is dead, you can at least mourn him,” But for her the issue is eternally pending.
“The anxiety of not knowing what happened to her son motivated Visaka to work for peace in Sri Lanka through the establishment of the Association of Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action and Association of War Affected Women. She has dedicated her life to ending the conflict in Sri Lanka, so that “another mother doesn’t have to lose a child.”
From the establishment of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976 to their military defeat in 2009, Sri Lanka was engulfed in Asia’s longest civil war. The Tamil minority rebel group, feeling persecuted by the Sinhalese controlled Sri Lankan government, sought to establish an independent Tamil state. Security in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka was particularly volatile as the LTTE, carried out suicide bombings and violent attacks on the Sri Lankan military and civilian population. The conflict divided communities and put many civilians in danger. In 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE signed a cease fire agreement; however, violence resumed shortly after the 2005 national elections. Fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers was accompanied by widespread human rights abuses as both groups targeted civilians to advance their political goals. LTTE frequently employed suicide bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings as war tactics.
Visaka felt the war in her country personally on September 27, 1998, when the LTTE attacked the Sri Lankan military base in Kilonochchi. The government of Sri Lanka reported 609 military personnel missing in action including Achintha Senarath her second son.
Achintha was not given any identification tags: “The army didn’t think it was important! If he had been wearing an ID tag, she would have known what
really happened to him.”; One month after the attack, parents of the missing soldiers gathered to hold a candlelight vigil to honor their lost loved ones. The parents continued to meet to share their painful stories and discuss what action they could take to help find their missing children.These informal meetings led to the creation of the Association of Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action(PSMIA). The first formal meeting of the PSMIA was marked by a ceremony at the Gatambe Temple in Kandy, attended by an estimated 800 people.
The members of PSMIA are dedicated to uncovering the fate of soldiers missing in action, advocating for the release of detainees, and promoting peace in Sri Lanka.
Dharmadasa’s bold leadership of the association resulted in regulation changes regarding those missing in action, including the issue of identification tags to all soldiers and the expedited registration and tracing process of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
As the PSMIA advocated for change within the Sri Lankan military, Visaka took her passion for peace directly to the Tamil rebels. She wanted to meet with the LTTE to share the importance of identification for soldiers and to promote dialogue between the rebels and the government. At first, she struggled to arrange a meeting: “The LTTE had to be convinced that she wanted to benefit the people of both sides.”; She wrote to the rebel leaders, sent messages through representatives of the international community, and finally, she met with the second in command of the Tamil Tigers. She took seven women no men,”. “He was convinced after talking to them that they were sincere.” Visaka believes that contact and communication are essential in the peace building process and notes that the PSMIA’s meetings were “the first time that a civil society group had a meeting with the LTTE. This paved the way for the ceasefire and the peace talks.”
As she continued communicating with the Tamil population, Visaka began to understand the deep pains that all women felt about losing their husbands and children in the war. She believed that having a forum for women to mourn their lost loved ones together would encourage communication and reconciliation. Under Her direction, the PSMIA established the Association of War Affected Women, which established a network of women who have lost sons or husbands from both sides of the conflict