Carry on goal to protect minorities’ freedom, punish perpetrators – US commission to Sri Lanka gov’t.

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

A US delegation, which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance, have noted progress on the issues in Sri Lanka since the country’s 2015 election. It cited the importance of punishing perpetrators of attacks and stopping harassment of religious groups trying to build houses of worship.

Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities during the March 15-17 visit.

“We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met,” Schwartz said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

He cited  among “welcome” developments comments he heard supporting national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. 

“After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government’s engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups,” the commissioner pointed out.

He also cited government’s measures in the areas of freedom of expression and association noting these “tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.”

Buddhism is the official religion in the country where Buddhists reportedly comprise more than 69 percent of the 21.87 million people. Most of the rest are Muslims (7.6 percent) or Hindu (7.1 percent). Christians make up about 6.2 percent of the population.

Expressing pleasure in hearing that reports of abuses against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months, Schwartz encouraged the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. “We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities,” he stressed.

He also said representatives of civil society at meetings reported “continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction,” citing experiences of intimidation or harassment when trying to build houses of worship. 

“We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come,” Schwartz said.

The U.S. Congress created USCIRF in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity to monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Maithripala Sirisena won as president in the Jan. 8 polls set by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter’s bid to seek a third term. Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, and repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment and restore the 17th amendment that limits the president’s rule to two terms and sets other restraints on the presidency.

 

Pope Francis to visit Madhu Shrine, spend time with war victims, orphans? – Sri Lanka web news

Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

screenshot – Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

Pope Francis would visit the historical Madhu Shrine during his stay in Sri Lanka in January next year, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo reportedly announced in Madhu.

The Pope will arrive in Sri Lanka on the 13th of January 2015, and celebrate mass at the Galle Face Green on the 14th morning before heading to Mannar District in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, reported EyeSriLanka online newspaper.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the district of Mannar is considered one the holiest Catholic shrine in Sri Lanka, and is a place of worship for both the Sinhalese and the Tamils and has been considered a symbol of unity between the two communities.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph, said Pope Francis would visit the Madhu shrine during his January visit and bless the war victims at a special mass at the shrine.

Bishop Joseph along with Cardinal Ranjith blessed thousands of pilgrims who gathered there from various parts of the island for the August festival last Friday, Aug. 15 . 

“Pope Francis will be the first Pope to travel out of Colombo,” Bishop Joseph is quoted saying. The Pope is expected to interact with the war widows, disabled persons and orphans, he added.

Read EyeSriLanka report

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Pope Francis, visit war-torn areas and survivors – Tamil Civil Society Groups

Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) has called upon Pope Francis to visit war-torn areas in the North and East and visit the survivors of the “war  against Tamils”, as part of his visit to Sri Lanka in 2015.

TCSF – a network of Tamil civil society social activists from the North and East including Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, aired their appeal in a letter to the Pope on Sunday. It requested him to openly call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to genuinely address grievances of Tamils during his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The text of the letter is published on Eye Sri Lanka

Address grievances of all factions – human rights, justice and peace advocate

In her presentation to last month’s International Conference on Politics and International Affairs in Athens, Salma Yusuf, pointed out that while the defeat of the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) in May 2009 ended the three decades-long conflict, its root causes remain.

Yusuf, university lecturer and adviser to programs on human rights law, transitional justice, comparative social justice and peace-guilding, stressed that grievances of all factions in the conflict have to be addressed. 

“When advocating reconciliation and unity, the fears and anxieties of all communities must be acknowledged, understood and addressed,” Yusuf said.

She warned, “An over-emphasis on the grievances of the Tamil community alone which is the natural tendency can lead to new waves of conflict and at must be avoided at all costs.” 

Read full text of her presentation  titled Sri Lanka: Reconciliation is Both a Process and a Goal 

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