Courage and Compassion in Sri Lanka: Shreen Abdul Saroor
Peace Award Winner 2011, Categorie "Public Engagement"
She has suffered the effects of war, death and displacement: as members of the Muslim minority, Shreen Abdul Saroor and her family were driven out of their home town Mannar in the north of Sri Lanka in 1990 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The predominantly Hindu Tamil separatists demanded an independent state in the north and in 1983 they began fighting against the government lead by the Singhalese Buddhists. The Tamil Tigers' defeat in 2009 marked the end of the civil war, but to date the ethnic groups have still not reconciled.
In 1998 Shreen gave up a successful business career in order to put all her energy into campaigning for peace and understanding between the different ethnic groups. She is a passionate feminist - she studied Women's Studies as well as Business Administration - and therefore campaigns first and foremost for women threatened by social exclusion. She encourages them to fight against discrimination and domestic violence and to devote themselves to the reconciliation process. In 1999 Shreen and her colleagues founded the Mannar Women's Development Federation, which not only helps women in more than 100 villages to lead a more independent life but also organizes the country's largest women-run microcredit programme.
As one of Sri Lanka's prominent women's rights and peace activists, Shreen works in the conflict affected areas and is consequently exposed to great danger as the state still pursues and punishes dissidents. Both her empathy and experience as a member of a persecuted minority provide the permanent source of courage which she needs in her campaign for victims of (state) violence, for equality, reconciliation and respect of human rights - not only in her grass roots and lobby work, but also through her political and academic publications.
She has the power to bring people together. Her good contacts to national and international organizations have made Shreen an important integration symbol for human rights and the democratic movement in Sri Lanka. In spite of her extensive lobby work and networking, the people at the grass-roots level are especially important to Shreen. They are at the heart of her work and the real reason for her courageous commitment.