Friday, 04 January 2019 09:17

In Memorium: Father Harry Miller - A Human Rights Champion

Father Benjamin Henry Miller passed away on December 31 as the year 2018 came to its close. This was the end of a long chapter in a single individual’s defense of human rights.

In 2014 NPC awarded its Citizens Peace Award for 2014 to Father Miller for his long years of service to the war affected people of Sri Lanka, especially during the period of war. It was inspiring to us that, although born in the United States of America, Father Miller chose to come to Sri Lanka and make its people and their sorrows his own, and commit himself not to leave them in their time of need. The US ambassador Michelle Sisson at that time traveled from Colombo to Batticaloa and spoke at the event.

During a period of time spanning over 50 years when he served as Rector of St. Michael’s College and as a teacher, Father Miller saw many opportunities to become involved in civic organizations. He helped in the formation of an inter religious organization, in civil societies to combat tuberculosis and cancer through preventive education, the establishment of a branch of the Federation of Red Cross and, as a Rotarian, he served as its President as well as on the National Rotary Council for Peace and Harmony. Father Miller was one of the founders of the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Batticaloa Council of Religions as lasting initiatives to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

His bravery in denouncing human rights violations by both the LTTE and the military demonstrated that such abuses could not be committed with complete impunity and that there still existed individuals and organizations prepared to raise issues of responsibility and accountability. Father Miller’s outspoken criticisms of human rights abuses became a beacon of truth and moral courage in the darkness of violence and intimidation that had befallen the Eastern Province.

The Citizens Peace Award was established by NPC to honour those individuals in civil society who are resident in Sri Lanka and have stood up for the protection of human rights when such rights are under threat and such action requires unusual courage and self-sacrifice to do so.

During the period of war, and continuing today, there was much controversy about the interventionist role of the international community in post war Sri Lanka. However, 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.

Therefore, we made an exception in making our award to a foreign citizen and not to a citizen of Sri Lanka. We mourn his passing and will work to ensure the values he stood for prevail in the country of his adoption.