Penn's Amnesty International chapter hosted a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night to bring awareness of the lives taken in the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Credit: Erin Farrell

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” — this is both the motto of Amnesty International and what a handful of students proved outside Van Pelt.

Marked in Sri Lanka and around the world on Oct. 27, the vigil remembering the Sri Lankan Civil War strives to bring awareness to the issue of the many thousand victims whose statuses remain unknown to friends and family. Penn’s chapter of Amnesty International gathered by the Button with candle light vigils to commemorate the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans civilians still unaccounted for. With candles in hand, the student advocates recited a poem and gave a few remarks in remembrance of those lost.

“These kinds of events bring awareness. And the primary goal for government actions with disappearances like these is to silence speech and to hide what has happened,” said Zohair Azmi, Penn Amnesty International outreach chair and a Wharton junior. “And so by bringing attention to what has happened we can combat that direct motive.”

The event highlights the Sri Lankan Civil War, which began in 1983 and consisted of a 26-year conflict between the nation’s government and the LTTE, a rebel group who aimed to create a separate government for the Tamil people. The war resulted in the disappearances of an estimated 80,000 people.

These disappearances are enforced by the government and have been a method utilized by the Sri Lankan government to oppress political dissidents, an act that is considered a crime under the international law of the Rome Statute.

This form of violence, intended to create terror and to violently suppress dissenting opinion, has cultivated an atmosphere of fear that still exists in Sri Lanka. This fear prevents many to this day from participating in such displays of commemoration of those lost.

“A lot of us are very much insulated and do not have to worry about our governments imprisoning us for speaking out,” Penn Amnesty International President and College senior Michelle Rosen said.“But in a lot of parts of the world, people cannot openly criticize their government without fear.”

“We often go about our day just stuck in our own worlds. Sometimes it’s important to take a moment to remember people who don’t have the same opportunities that we do and to reflect on all that we’ve been fortunate enough to have,” Penn Amnesty International secretary and College sophomore Madeleine Jacobs said.

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