Together, we can build a fair future for all: DONATE TODAY!
Ensemble, nous pouvons bâtir un avenir juste pour tout le monde : DONNEZ AUJOURD’HUI!
Skip to main content

Buhary Mohammed: Rallying all positions with the power of human rights education

Buhary Mohammed: Rallying all positions with the power of human rights education

Buhary Mohammed is a long time Equitas partner and human rights educator who participated in the International Human Rights Training Program in 2018 before coming back as a facilitator in 2023. His philosophy is that when human rights educators engage with the most reluctant, “we should allow them as well to engage to [reach a true] dialogue.”  

Buhary is the Executive Director of the Eastern Social Development Foundation in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, an organization committed to women’s and minorities’ rights. In February 2024, he, along with 30+ other human rights educators and Equitas partners, came to Montreal for a week of exchanges, mutual learning and practical activities. He took this opportunity to share an important history of humanity, justice, and community-led action.

Buhary Mohammed at Equitas' International Learning Event in February 2024.
Buhary Mohammed at Equitas’ International Learning Event in February 2024.

In Sri Lanka, customary laws have been put in place for minorities, such as Muslim Sri Lankans, who make up about 9.7% (2012) of the population.  These laws are notably adjudicated by the Quazi courts, judicial institutions specifically created to serve the Muslims of the country. The only requirement to become a Quazi judge is to be a “male Muslim of good character and position and of suitable attainments (Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Article 12(1)”. “We don’t even know what that means exactly, Buhary exclaims. [Most of Quazi judges] don’t know about the law.” Indeed, this sole condition leaves room for men with no prior law experience or training to become full-fledged judges.  

This lack of experience and knowledge leads Quazi judges tend to be biased and prejudicial – and women are the first to be penalized:

“Women can’t get justice, because it’s a patriarchal and male prioritized system. Very often, they experience discrimination,” sustains Buhary.

Determined to do something, he and his team went to the federal Judicial Service Commission to discuss about this unacceptable gap. They came out with an ambitious project, “a sort of collaboration” which would beneficiate both women and judges.  

At first sight, it seems easier for human rights educators to avoid people who disagree with their approach, or those who are more hostile to the respect of certain rights. But Buhary took a different path:

“We called all the Quazi judges, and we reinforced their capacities.” First, they took several previous cases and shared how their judgments failed to take in account women’s rights. “We wanted to give them a space to rethink their practice,” while acknowledging their respective abilities. With this approach, “they opened their door to us” – and thus, a true and mutual dialogue started.  

Buhary resorted to what he learned through Equitas’ trainings. “With Equitas, I have learned how to use human rights education as a tool to educate and empower communities and bring change.” And this is exactly what he and his team did: they organized trainings to educate the judges to become sensible to the human rights of Muslim Sri Lankans and the issues they struggle with, like gender-based violence, or how women are socialized to be silent when in presence of men. This was only the first step of the project. 

Buhary Mohammed speaking at Equitas' International Learning Event in February 2024.
Buhary Mohammed speaking at Equitas’ International Learning Event in February 2024.

“We then selected several women with experience in law and psychology and trained them to become human rights-aware paralegal officers.” With only men as Quazi judges, women’s issues are often misunderstood, or neglected, especially in cases involving gender-based violence:

“Women never ever come in front of men and say what is happening at home, in terms of physical or sexual violence.”

So, the Foundation figured women would be more at ease if they could just sit and talk with someone who could understand them. Again, Buhary used the knowledge he acquired from collaborating with Equitas and used the power of human rights education to empower the plaintiff women, who now had a space to confide themselves and advocate for their rights. 

The appointed paralegal officers were in charge of reading the cases Quazi courts were working on and meeting those women to locate the issues and their needs. With the Foundation, they would then draft recommendations to submit to the judges. A gesture that was very well received:

“Most of the judges were very happy with this intervention. They felt it was easier for them to identify the issues and the proper solutions before making a judgement.”

Thus, the team used the transformative power of human rights education to make the Quazi judges aware of the rights of the women they adjudicate. They are now actors using their important work in society to bring justice to women. 

“This the way we are engaging at our Foundation,” Buhary triumphantly concluded.