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Sri Lanka

Rights defending priest mourned in Sri Lanka

Father Miller fought against civil war abuses by both the military and secessionist ethnic-Tamil militants

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

Updated: January 04, 2019 10:54 AM GMT
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Rights defending priest mourned in Sri Lanka

American-born Father Benjamin Henry Miller, SJ, died on Jan. 1. He was 93 years of age. (Photo by Quintus Colombage/ucanews.com)

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American Jesuit Father Benjamin Henry Miller, who documented thousands of abductions and disappearances as well as other abuses during Sri Lanka's 1983-2009 civil war, has died aged 93.

Father Miller was awarded the Citizens Peace Award for 2014 by the country's National Peace Council (NPC).

He died on Jan. 1 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.

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.

He had been under medical care for age-related illnesses for several years prior to his death.

Dr. 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 its 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 of the college from 1959 to 1970.

The American priest learned the local Tamil language served as a parish priest in the Batticaloa Diocese.

Father Miller 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,"

 said the statement.

"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."

Arul Milroy, a Batticaloa human rights activist, said many people would work to ensure the values Father Miller stood for prevailed in the nation he adopted.

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