6 January 2020
In this interview, Sonali Wanigabaduge, currently enrolled in our MAS in Transitional Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law (MTJ) tells us about the programme and life in Geneva.
My name is Sonali Wanigabaduge and I am from Sri Lanka. I began my career as a human rights lawyer and then worked, over the past 10 years, at one of Sri Lanka’s most influential media organizations (The Capital Maharaja Organisation Limited) in varying capacities, including as Head of Corporate/ Legal Affairs for its firebrand news division, and as a television talk show host. My work also enabled me to conceptualise new projects that brought together multiple stakeholders, in areas such as reconciliation, rights awareness and the arts.
I’m also passionate about cinema, theatre, and writing. I fervently believe in the power of human compassion to transcend differences in political ideology.
I’d always been drawn towards the field of transitional justice, even before I knew the coinage of the term!
A conversation with a friend who had pursued this programme, followed by intense researching, was all the convincing it took for me to uproot myself from 32 years in Sri Lanka, which, I believe, has been one of my bravest and most emotionally fulfilling decisions so far.
One of the highlights of the programme is the phenomenal insights provided by the stellar panel of professors and human rights experts who encourage innovative thinking around this developing field of transitional justice, coupled with the diversity of opinion from within the class itself. The student body consists of authentic and passionate viewpoints from multiple jurisdictions, which I find particularly intriguing.
Looking outside the window during lectures to the surreal sight of the Geneva Lake is another definite highlight of the course!
This programme encompasses a multidimensional, yet specialised, immersion into transitional justice. Its idyllic and strategic situation in Geneva, where a significant quantum of global human rights work takes place, makes its desirability unparalleled, as interactions are enabled with key players in the field of human rights.
The programme is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who truly wish to serve, whether in the capacity of a policy-maker, activist, or change-maker.
My heart will forever be with Sri Lanka, no matter where in the world I’d travel to. Whilst appreciating the value of the almost-Utopian results expected of transitional justice, I would like to look at it through a realist’s lens. I am confident that I’d be able to consult with other amazing Sri Lankans from different sectors, who are tirelessly working on the country’s reconciliation process, to catalyse result-oriented transitional justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka, to ensure a truly inclusive reconciliation process geared at non-recurrence of conflict.
The psychedelic Pinta Cura by artist Frédéric Post, to me, represents everything that Geneva doesn’t advertise to be: bold, non-conformist and iridescent.
This resonates with me because I often find myself wanting to look beyond the superficial perfection in situations. Whilst appreciating Geneva’s near-synonymity with human rights, if you look a bit further, you discover its underbelly which comes with its own unique challenges and complexities, which often go under the radar.
Marking the entrance to Geneva’s district of the Grottes, the lit-up images of the serpent and jaguar, rooted in non-Western visual tradition, symbolise therapeutic power and clairvoyance, meant to ward off evil spirits and watch over passers-by in this cosmopolitan city which sees a multiplicity of wanderers with so many emotions, hopes, fears and dreams. This, to me, is the embodiment of the Geneva experience.
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Two alumni of our LLM in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Ezequiel Heffes and Manuel Ventura are the editors, along with Marcos Kotlik, of a new book on international humanitarian law and non-state actors.
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UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
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