CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 12 January 2019

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Champion of human rights mourned in Sri Lanka

NEGOMBO (UCAN): American Jesuit Father Benjamin Henry Miller, who documented thousands of abductions and disappearances as well as other abuses during Sri Lanka’s 1983 to 2009 civil war, died on January 1 at the age of 93, in his small but beautiful room in an old attic of St. Michael’s college in Batticaloa, a major eastern city of the island nation.
 
He had been under medical care for age-related illnesses for several years prior to his death.
 
Father Miller documented forced displacement, communal strife, abductions, disappearances, killings, arrests and the recruitment of children as combatants, as well as rapes, in the Batticaloa region and was awarded the Citizens Peace Award for 2014 by the country’s National Peace Council (NPC).
 
Jehan Perera, executive director of the NPC, said that it was inspiring that Father Miller chose to come to Sri Lanka and make its people and their sorrows his own.
 
He committed himself to not leaving them in their time of need.
 
Perera said Father Miller courageously defended victims of human rights’ abuses committed by the security forces, the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other militant groups.
 
He also contributed to monitoring an ultimately doomed ceasefire.
 
Father Miller left the United States as a Jesuit student priest for Sri Lanka in 1948, just eight months after independence from British colonial rule.
 
He taught physics, history and English as well as coaching the soccer team at St. Michael’s college. He was also rector from 1959 to 1970.
 
Father Miller learned the local Tamil language and served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Batticaloa. 
 
He was one of the founders of the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Batticaloa Council of Religious that advanced peace initiatives during the civil war.
 
The NPC said Father Miller also combated tuberculosis and other diseases through preventative education.
 
He established a branch of the Federation of the Red Cross and, as a Rotarian, served as its president as well as on the National Rotary Council for Peace and Harmony.
 
“In 1990, spurred by the murder of his fellow Jesuit, Father Eugene John Hebert, he began single-handedly recording human rights’ violations in Batticaloa,” the NPC said in a statement.
 
“He travelled on his motorcycle to collect reports of disappearances, torture and killings. He used this data to inform the national and international communities about the atrocities that were taking place,” the statement said.
 
“Father Miller’s work exemplified the universality of human rights and the duty to protect the rights of all human beings irrespective of race, religion, gender or nationality,” it said.
 
Arul Milroy, a human rights advocate from Batticaloa, said many people would work to ensure the values Father Miller stood for prevailed in the nation he adopted.

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