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.


Gov’t hosts meeting for Pope Francis’ Visit to Sri Lanka, ahead of PH

Sri Lanka’s Inter-Ministerial Task Force preparing for Pope Francis’ “state visit” from January 13 to 15 next year gathered together  public, civic, private business and Church leaders for the first time June 24 at the External Affairs Ministry, its Daily News national newspaper reported.

Sri Lankan unofficial source for dates of the papal visit to the south Asian country has also been cited saying the pope would arrive in the Philippines from Sri Lanka on January 15 in a report which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines news website  and Facebook account cited.

For the Sri Lanka visit, External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris welcomed Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Apostolic Nuncio Nguyen Van Tot, Bishop of Chilaw Most Rev. Valence Mendis, Bishop of Galle Most Rev. Raymond Wickramasinghe, Bishop of Kurunegala Most Rev. Dr. Harold Anthony Perera, Defence and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Law and Order Ministry Secretary Major General Nanda Mallawarachchi, Mass Media and Information Ministry Secretary Dr. Charitha Herath, Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya, Army Commander Lt. General R.M.D. Ratnayake, Navy Commander Rear Admiral Jayanath Colombage, Air Force Commander Air Marshal K.A. Gunathilake, Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon and representatives of other stakeholder institutions including the Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry, the Highways Ministry, Airport and Aviation Services Ltd., SriLankan Airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Immigration and Emigration Department and the Colombo Municipal Council.

All arrangements regarding the State Visit of His Holiness the Pope were discussed comprehensively at this meeting.

It was agreed that a further discussion would take place with the advance team from the Vatican due to visit Sri Lanka next week.

Read report, view meeting photos 

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis would be travelling to Korea from August 14 to August 18 this year during which he will visit with and address young people from around the region gathered for Asian Youth Day, persons with disabilities, leaders of religious and lay groups. The pope will also hold private meetings with South Korean president and public officials as well as Catholic bishops of Korea.

No formal announcement has come from the Vatican concerning exact dates of Pope Francis’ visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, which the pope told an inflight press conference would be on January.

Sri Lanka media, quoting Cardinal Ranjith reported the January 13 – January 15 visit to their south Asian country. Catholic News Agency report later cited Monsignor Nevin Perera, coordinator of Sri Lankan migrants in Italy, saying that Pope Francis will leave Sri Lanka for Manila on the morning of January 15.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle also expressed confidence that the papal visit will push through. In an early June press conference on the 2016 International Eucharistic Congress attended by CiA, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo told reporters a Vatican representative is expected to attend the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines July plenary assembly to discuss the pope’s visit to the Philippines.

Palo Archbishop John Du, said the papal visit would boost the morale of ‘Yolanda’ (super typhoon Haiyan) survivors, especially those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

He said the typhoon survivors in Leyte await the pope’s visit and anticipate eagerly Pope Francis’ arrival in their province.

“The pope’s visit is another big blessing. We are happy for the blessing that come to us– the pope is coming, the people’s solidarity and the overwhelming generosity of the people,” Du said.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reports worldwide church figures as of Dec. 31, 2011, the increase in the number of Catholics in Africa (4.3 percent) and Asia (2 percent) greatly outpaced their regions’ population growth, which was 2.3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.