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Kumar Rupesinghe (born 1943) is an academic and activist involved in social issues, particularly Human Rights, development issues, processes of globalisation, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and conflict transformation in the light of peacekeeping and peacebuilding for a harmonious coexistence among all peoples in the world.
Rupesinghe obtained his first degree from the London School of Economics and his Ph.D. from the City University London. He has contributed towards building new organizations and networks on human rights and peace.
At sixteen he went to London to study philosophy for eight years. His guide and mentor in those formative years was the Hungarian philosopher Alfred Reynolds - Reinhold Alfréd, whose insightful and enlightening discussions on philosophy ensured that the young Rupesinghe earned a solid grounding in Western and Indian Philosophy. This timely exposure to the Western culture at a very early age armed him with muchneeded subjectivity of his own Sri Lankan culture. Gaining an insight into different schools of thought allowed him to perceive transparently the shortcomings in his native land.
In the meanwhile, he continued his academic growth by obtaining a Degree at the London School of Economics and received his Doctorate from the City University London. Over time, he went on to become a Research Fellow at the Agrarian Research and Training Institute, Colombo, (1971–1973) and was appointed Director of the National Youth Service Council.
It was but natural that one of Rupesinghe’s core concerns was human dignity, or the lack of it, which he witnessed during the ethnic riots of 1958 in Sri Lanka, where a close Tamil friend and his family were killed brutally. Little did he know that this experience would shape the trajectory of his entire life as his philosophic bent of mind grappled with the injustice and the discrimination of minorities in the north and east of the island.
During 1973-1977, under the patronage of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Dr. Rupesinghe formed two major weekly newspapers, Janavegaya and Janavegam (both meaning 'people's power'), which embodied a social movement for change in Sri Lanka. The Janavegaya social movement had wide popularity and a presence in all parts of the country. One of his unique achievements at that time was to visit prisons where 20,000 political prisoners were held as a result of the abortive 1971 JVP Insurrection. Eventually, through the efforts of Janavegaya, the then Prime Minister was persuaded to release all prisoners held in connection to the insurrection, except for the key figures of the insurgency.
Through the newspaper Janavegam, a Tamil weekly, he had access to Tamil opinion in the north and became aware of the deeprooted grievances of Tamil youth. Janavegam agitated for their rights and called for power sharing arrangement for the North and East provinces. One positive outcome of this agitation was that the government established the University of Jaffna. The weekly newspaper predicted that unless there was a clear policy to alleviate the suffering of the people in the North and address the grievances of the youth, civil war would be an eventual reality.
University of Peradeniya
After the 1977 defeat of the SLFPled United Front government, he served as Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya (1977 1981). At this time he was also a member of the Social Scientists Association, a Sri Lankan research body.
International Peace Research Institute
He was invited to join the International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway, as a Research Fellow in 1982. At this juncture, ethnic polarisation in Sri Lanka had increased, and after 1977, relations between the Tamils and the Government of Sri Lanka had deteriorated. Against this backdrop, he singlemindedly dedicated himself to finding solutions to the ethnic conflict and studied means by which further damage could be prevented. This quest led to his early attempt to advocate an early warning system to prevent conflict.
He was later appointed Research Director and led PRIO’s programme on ethnic conflict and conflict resolution. His research programme was now honed and unveiled as an early attempt to warn the international community of impending ethnic and national conflicts and to engage in debate with the international community on the importance of focusing on internal conflicts, early warning and conflict prevention.
During his tenure, Dr. Rupesinghe was appointed as the Co¬ordinator to the Programme on Governance and Conflict Resolution at the United Nations University, Tokyo, where he edited two volumes and commissioned several monographs on identity conflict. He was also Chair of the Commission on Internal Conflicts of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), where he concluded his chairmanship by publishing four volumes on ‘Early Warning and Conflict Resolution’.
From 1992-1998 Dr. Rupesinghe was Secretary General of International Alert (IA), an International NonGovernmental Organisation (INGO) dedicated to the prevention and mitigation of violent internal conflict. The organisation was a succession of the world-renowned human rights advocate, the first secretary General of Amnesty International, Martin Ennals, who received the Nobel Prize. During his tenure, Dr. Rupesinghe was in the august company of IA Board members like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureates and other distinguished citizens of the global human rights community.
Under the leadership of Dr. Rupesinghe, International Alert became one of the largest international nongovernmental organisations in the world, with a budget of approximately UK£5 million a year, a staff of 80 and field programmes in over 15 countries in conflict. Many organisations adopted International Alert’s mandate of conflict prevention. In his capacity, Dr. Rupesinghe engaged in capacity building of local organisations and collaborated with over 50 organisations mainly in the regions of conflict.
International Alert has been involved in mediation and conflict resolution in Sri Lanka, Philippines Fiji, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Rwanda, the Caucuses region, and the Russian Federation. International Alert made a decisive intervention in the conflict in Sierra Leone, and cofacilitated the mediation process together with the Foreign Minister of Côte d'Ivoire, the U.N. the O.A.U and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Their efforts eventually led to the Abidjan Accords. In Liberia, at the request of President Carter, early efforts were made to encourage dialogue between the now President Charles Taylor (Liberia) and President Abacha of Nigeria.
In Sri Lanka, International Alert undertook many complimentary efforts to contribute towards the resolution of the conflict there, with many problemsolving workshops, including all the parties to the conflicts. Of special interest was a programme to take 20 MPs from all the political parties to learn from the experience from Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Philippines.
In the Caucuses, in collaboration with the then Minister of Nationalities, Professor Valery Tishkov, who was also the Director of the Institute of Ethnography, Russian Institute of Sciences, Dr. Rupesinghe initiated a programme to expand an early warning and early response network in the Russian Federation, and inaugurated a citizenbased network for peace building and conflict resolution. International Alert was asked to intervene in several conflicts in the former Soviet Union, which included Chechnya and Dagestan.
In Fiji, International Alert was involved in several workshops with decisionmakers from both sides to work towards constitutional reform.
Through his capacity as Chairman of the FCE, Dr. Rupesinghe also seeks to provide policy support to each step of the Sri Lankan peace process writing articles and issue papers, and participating in seminars and TV opinion programmes. This role supports continued public discussion of pertinent issues and allows for the sharing of expertise with key decisionmakers, stakeholders and fellow civil society organisations.
Since his return to Sri Lanka after the signing of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE in 2002, he has also initiated the National AntiWar Front (NAWF), with a presence in all the districts of Sri Lanka. It has been engaged in public demonstrations, sitins and vigils, to call for peace and a negotiated solution to the country’s civil war.
While his nationbuilding efforts are invaluable, Dr. Rupesinghe remains open to criticism from political circles and outside, levelled by those critical of his endeavours towards peace. He has encouraged open discussions with such individuals and groups and believes that transparency and dialogue is the only way of reaching a national consensus on the issue.
One of his valuable contributions has been his theoretical and conceptual reflections on advancing early warning and conflict resolution; the role of third parties in the mediation of protracted internal conflicts; and an advanced concept of multitrack solutions to civil wars. The advocacy programme, which he created, was to persuade governments and international organisations to develop programmes for early warning, early action and develop coalitions and burden sharing in civil wars.
As part of this work in influencing policy, he contributed to the discussion and creating policy instruments on early warning systems with the European Union (EU) and the O.A.U, and sought to influence the policy debate in UK, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Japan. In Japan, his efforts led to the formation of the Centre for Preventive Diplomacy.
Dr. Rupesinghe also served as a member of the Board at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) – Project on War Torn Societies.
Apart from his academic pursuits, he has contributed towards building new organisations and networks on human rights and peace. He was Chair of HURIDOCS (Human Rights Documentation Systems Exchange International) and in addition to his role as Secretary General of International Alert, he was appointed the Chair of the programme on Culture and Ethnicity of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Japan. This programme will publish over five volumes on Culture and Identity.
He has been very closely involved in developing conceptual tools and practical action for the prevention of violent conflict and genocide. In this context, he was the Chair of the Forum for Early Warning and Early Action (FEWER), which is an ongoing initiative to establish an international early warning, early action network.
Dr. Rupesinghe was appointed a member of the Council of the International Negotiation Network based in Atlanta, USA, an initiative led by President Carter, and acted as an advisor towards President Carter’s initiatives on peace.
He also happens to be a Council Member and Commissioner on the Commission in Globalisation of the USA-based State of the World Forum headed by President Gorbachev.
Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe has edited and written over 40 books and published over 200 articles in academic journals. Some of his writings include ‘Civil War Civil Peace’ Zed Press, ‘Conflict Transformation’ by McMillan and ‘Early Warning, Early Response’. He has recently released his collected works under the titles of 'Waging Peace 20022008', 'Preventive Diplomacy', 'Early Warning', 'Conflict Resolution and Transformation Vols. I and II', 'Development and Conflict in Sri Lanka', 'Expressions of an Unequivocal Mind' and 'The Voice Vols. I and II' in form of 9 volumes.
- "15 The right to autonomy: Chimera or solution?". archive.unu.edu.