Ambika Satkunanathan (Sri Lanka)

Chairperson, Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust

Ambika Satkunanathan is a human rights lawyer and advocate based in Sri Lanka. She is the Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust, the only indigenous grant-making organisation in Sri Lanka. As Chairperson she has mobilized resources to support and strengthen community organisations that work with vulnerable populations, and led the Trust’s efforts to be ‘more than just a donor’. She is also the Vice Chairperson of Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific, a regional feminist grant making organisation. She is currently an Open Society Fellow (2020-2021) studying how reform initiatives, particularly those that seek to strengthen protections for human rights through institutional reform, often focus on formal and legal structures and processes, to the exclusion of informal elements, such as patronage, that can thwart even the best-designed interventions, particularly in post-war contexts plagued by ethno-nationalist politics. From Oct 2015 to March 2020, she was a Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

Prior to that, for eight years, she functioned as the Legal Consultant to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka advising OHCHR during critical periods, both during and post-war. Her research and advocacy have focused on transitional justice, custodial violence, prison reform, militarization, gender and Tamil nationalism. Her publications include contributions to the Oxford Handbook of Gender & Conflict, the Routledge Handbook on Human Rights in South Asia, and Contemporary South Asia. Ambika holds a Master of Laws (Human Rights) degree from the University of Nottingham, where she was a Chevening Scholar, and has earned bachelor’s degrees (LL.B / B.A) from Monash University, Australia.

Click here for more information on Ambika’s Big Conversation panel: “#ShiftThePower”