Archive for the ‘social change’ Category


Last year, in a village in the east of Sri Lanka, Selvi Ratnarajah opened her door to find three masked men pointing guns at her face. They pushed inside and screamed at her to turn off the lights. When she refused, they shouted for her husband, Ravanana, dragged him into the street and forced him at gunpoint on to the back of a motorbike.

“I went out of the house and ran and ran through the bush,” she said, fingering her husband’s tattered ID card. “I could see the lights of the motorbike ahead and I saw them stop by a bridge. Then I heard shots. I ran towards the noise and I could hear someone breathing. It was dark and there were no lights and I was screaming for him. When I found my husband, they’d shot him in the mouth. He was trying to talk to me. I tried to scream again, but no sound came out. Then he died.”

Ratnarajah says she has no idea who took her husband or why. “When they came to the house, all they said was that he was being taken for questioning, but nobody has ever told me why he was taken,” she says. “Everywhere there are men with arms. We don’t know who they are and what is happening with the fighting, and I don’t know who to trust. I saw him being taken from the house but nobody will listen to me. My husband was never accused of anything.”

As the Sri Lankan military mounts a spring offensive designed to eliminate the Tamil Tigers and end their bloody 26-year struggle for an independent Tamil homeland, the civilian population of the Tamil-dominated regions is terrorised, displaced and fears the worst.

As rebel soldiers melt back into the civilian population, and the number of those displaced by the fighting swells, tales of brutality and intimidation are legion. Meanwhile, people are simply disappearing.

This is an extract of a longer article on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in the days before the government finally crushed the last remaining Tamil Tiger forces, which first appeared in The Observer on 5 April 2009.  Click here to read the article in full.


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Neil Watson is in the middle of his busiest time of the year. The heady combination of alcohol and enforced family time over Christmas and the new year mean that for the next few weeks he will spend much of his time talking his clients out of confrontations, away from pub fights, and reminding them how well they have done and not to blow it now.

Watson started his charity, The Violence Initiative (TVI), a decade ago as a way of moving on from his own angry past. His clients are the stuff of many people’s nightmares. Wife beaters, pub brawlers, the ones who scream at strangers on the street, grab their girlfriends by the hair in public, and smack their children in supermarkets while shoppers avert their eyes.

“We help those people that society wishes didn’t exist,” says Watson. “I get so much grief for what we do here, even from victims’ groups, who say that our clients should be strung up. But 99% of them have suffered some immense moment or period of trauma, and something in them has switched over. I want to help them switch it back.”

Click here to read this article, which first appeared in The Guardian in January 2008, in full

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Kahssey Desta, a scared and apprehensive 16-year-old, arrived at London’s Heathrow airport on a dark morning in September 2002 oblivious to what awaited him. Five weeks earlier, his mother had paid a man to collect him from his village in a war-torn province of Eritrea and take him across the border into Sudan to escape the mandatory military service that had seen his three brothers disappear without a trace two years before. From there he was put on a plane to the UK.

“When I landed here I was alone, but I knew if I was made to go home I would be punished and thrown in jail,” says Desta, now a bright, articulate 20-year-old, granted indefinite leave to stay by the Home Office and currently halfway through an accountancy degree. “When I arrived at Heathrow I just turned up and told them what had happened. I prayed they wouldn’t send me back.”

His story is repeated day after day as unaccompanied children – terrified, often traumatised and speaking no English – arrive at airports across the UK. Desta is just one of the young asylum seekers looked after by Hillingdon council, a local authority in west London that, because of its proximity to Heathrow, the largest airport in Europe, is responsible for more than one-third of all unaccompanied minors arriving here.

The problem for public services posed by these young asylum seekers, according to Hillingdon, is not the number entering the UK – which is falling year on year – but the concentration. The average council has a duty of care to 50 young asylum seekers, but Hillingdon is responsible for around 1,140 and is warning that it is nearing financial crisis as a consequence.

Click here to read the rest of the article, which appeared in The Guardian´s Society section in January 2007

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