Sri Lankan Human Rights Activist wins US State Department IWOC award

Sri Lankan human rights activist and lawyer Ranitha Gnanarajah this week accepted the U.S. Department of State’s prestigious International Women of Courage award for 2021 at a ceremony held at the White House in Washington D.C. She was announced as a winner in 2021 in recognition of her efforts in fighting for and defending the rights of marginalised and vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka despite the risk of threats and challenges to her safety. Gnanarajah was one of 15 women to be honoured with the IWOC Award this year. As the Head of Legal at the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Gnanarajah has dedicated her career to fighting for accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, by providing free legal aid and related services.

Gnanarajah was also instrumental in securing the release of many suspects detained under the PTA following the Easter Sunday attack, particularly in the B /427 PTA case in which 68 suspects were detained under the same case. The U.S. The Department of State said as an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Gnanarajah has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations. The IWOC Award honours women who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to improve the lives of others, from families to communities to countries.