Dr Farah Mihlar
My research and teaching interests are in conflict, religion and justice. I study how war-survivors and ‘victims’ understand justice in post-war contexts and how through everyday acts of resistance they try to challenge international norms and application of transitional justice. I am particularly interested in studying how women war survivors and ‘victims’ demand justice for wartime atrocities. Much of my field research is on Sri Lanka but I am looking to expand my work to other conflict affected areas in South Asia.
My other area of research is on religion in a minority context, where I have studied and published on Islam in Sri Lanka. I am currently researching on how religious actors in Sri Lanka and Nepal define and articulate justice and how this is negotiated in relation to peace building.
Prior to joining the University of Exeter, I had a long career working in conflict prevention and international human rights. Working for the UN and international organisations, I have conducted research and implemented projects in South Asia, East Africa, Isreal and Palestine and Cyprus. I have also lobbied and worked on securing UN resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
I currently convene three modules: POL3239 International Human Rights, POLM152 Post-conflict Human Rights and Transitional Justice; POLM085 Work placement in Conflict, Security and Development and teach women in armed conflict in POLM 084 Conflict, Security and Development in World Politics.
My research for my PhD was on religious change amongst Muslims in Sri Lanka; the main thesis of which considers how not only identity and politics but religion as well can be transformed through minority positioning, especially in a conflict context.
Between 2016-2018 I conducted research on the search for post-conflict justice by minority Tamils and Muslims war survivors in northern Sri Lanka. I am currently in the process of writing an article exploring why many of the factors identified in scholarly work that contribute to the failure of transitional justice were replicated in Sri Lanka, failing victims and stalling the post-conflict justice and peace building process.
My future projects will combine the above two areas of research exploring the role of religion in transitional justice, particularly in retributive justice. I want to consider how religious actors and groups interpret texts and ideology on issues of post-conflict justice, peace and reconciliation. I also want to develop this study beyond Sri Lanka and conduct comparative case studies with Nepal and Myanmar.
Both my areas of research have strong findings on women that challenge and support some mainstream feminist arguments on agency and emancipation. I am keen to further develop this work and contribute to feminist and gender studies in the future.
External impact and engagement
In addition to my academic work I have published a number of policy briefings (see listed below).
I continue to use my research findings to advocate for change and through my policy networks work with national and international actors to raise issues and make recommendations.
Some of my recent policy work includes (and is not limited to):
- Making recommendations to the UN Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Minority Rights following the Easter Sunday attacks and subsequent religious attacks against Muslims in Sri Lanka.
- Working with the UN country team and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on human rights issues in Sri Lanka.
I also write commentary pieces and engage in media work. Some of my recent media work include:
There is a thread running through Sri Lanka's cycles of violence, Guardian, 23 April, 2019.
Sri Lanka: Why do Sectarian tensions still simmer, Al Jazeera, 21 May, 2019.
Beyond Belief: Sri Lanka, BBC Radio Four, 13 May, 2019.
Sri Lanka extremist find a new enemy, Indepth News, 10 March, 2018.
- Mihlar, F. Coming out of the margins: justice and reconciliation for conflict-affected Muslims in Sri Lanka. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2018.
- International Crisis Group. Sri Lanka’s conflict affected women: dealing with the legacy of war. Asia Report No 289. Brussels: ICG, 28 July 2017.
- Mihlar, F. 'Everything has shattered'- rising levels of violence against Shia in Pakistan. Minority Rights Group International briefing paper. London: MRG, 2014.
- Mihlar, F. Israel’s denial of the Bedouin. Minority Rights Group International briefing paper. London: MRG, 2010.
- Mihlar, F. Living with insecurity: Marginalisation and sexual violence against women in north and east of Sri Lanka. Minority Rights Group International Full Report. London: MRG, 2013.
- Mihlar, F. No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in post war Sri Lanka Minority Rights Group International Full Report. London: MRG, 2010.
- Mihlar, F. Voices that must be heard: minorities and indigenous peoples combating climate change. Minority Rights Group Briefing Paper. London: MRG, 2008.
- Mihlar, F. Voices from the margins: including the perspectives of minorities and indigenous people in the post-2015 development agenda. Minority Rights Group International briefing paper. MRG: London, 2013.
- South Asia chapters of State of the World’s Minorities (SWM) report, 2013, 2010 and 2009.
I was born and grew up in Sri Lanka during the height of the country’s armed conflict. I thought, growing up amidst the bomb explosions, mob attacks and frequent police curfews amounted to war-time experiences until I became a journalist, began reporting from the war-torn areas of Sri Lanka and realised the full imact of armed conflict on civilians. I have always been drawn to and affected by the vast and intense suffering caused by war, especially on how it affects women, and I am passionate about justice.
I started my career as a journalist in Sri Lanka and worked for a number of national and international media organisations, such as Reuters, the BBC World Service, The Times of India and in Sri Lanka; the Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, ETV and Capital Radio.
I moved to England to do a MSc in Social Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE) and subsequently went on to do my PhD in the Study of Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Amidst my academic work I built a career in conflict prevention and international human rights. I have worked for a number of international organisations, including the UN, International Crisis Group and Minority Rights Group International. My work involved research and publications; human rights training; project management and conducting international advocacy with the UN Human Rights Council.
When I can find time outside of work, I enjoy dabbling with painting and mosaic art; trying to sew without swearing at my machine; cooking and hosting; swimming (in warm water), cycling and travelling. Most of all I enjoy spending time with my husband and son and visiting friends and family in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world.