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.

 

Advertisements

Opinion : Sri Lanka polls and papal visit 2015 – Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando

Update of Catholic In Asia blog Faith in God for papal visit security in Sri Lanka – priest 

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lankan theologian Father Reid Shelton Fernando in online discussion shared his opinion posted below on why Pope Francis should not come to Sri Lanka as planned following announcement of the Jan. 8, 2015 schedule of presidential elections in the South Asian nation. 

“According to the situation of the presidential elections fixed for the 8th (of)* January and (whether) it is (or not) conducive to have his (pope’s) visit on the 13th (of) Jan.

a)  The politcians have already politicized this visit by having banners, cut (outs) and posters.

b) Must take (into consideration) the political culture during elections – It is very violent and more it will be that the Ex- Govt. party member/ex minister is contesting against the incumbent president and already (campaigning) had started which will end up in violence and election malpractices. After the elections on the 8th when the results (are) announced on the 9th there will be vilification actions conducted.  This had been the trend in the last few decades.

c) In this mood as the Sri Lankan Catholic Community is only 6% to 7 % they (may also) face violent reactions from the Extremists Groups.

d) If the incumbent president is defeated then the new person elected will not be able to monitor the organization process of the papal visit.

e) From the side of the Church, the preparations for the papal visit was only to have an external show or demonstration of power. There is spiritual preparations planned but had not simmered down yet to the faithful in the grass-root level. Even (the) canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz has not figured in the last few months. 

f) There can be alternative proposal as His Holiness is due to Philippines in Jan 2016 for the International Eucharistic Congress, he can make the visit then there is enough time to prepare spiritually and take cognizance of the life and works of Blessed Joseph Vaz. Therefore, we can wait for one more year as there is no urgency. (What) is needed (is) that we – all faithful – be imbibed with the spirit of Blessed Joseph Vaz.

*words in parentheses were provided by Catholic In Asia editor