The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka launched two reports exploring the situation of the Christian minority in Sri Lanka and the freedom they have to manifest their faith.
The compilation of the research studies that were facilitated by the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the NCEASL was commissioned to Verite Research and financially supported by USAID-Sri Lanka. The data for both studies were provided by the RLC.
The reports launched on 19 May, at an event in Colombo, saw the participation of members of the diplomatic community, the clergy and civil society.
NCEASL’s Legal and Advocacy Coordinator of the RLC, Yamini Ravindran, in delivering an overview, highlighted the change in the political climate since January 2015. Ravindran, while welcoming the establishment of a Ministry of Christian Religious Affairs and a Coordinating desk for Evangelical Christians, as moves to safeguard religious freedom, raised the 130 incidents of religious liberty violations of Christians during the tenure of the new Government, as a point of concern. While noting the “marked decrease in the activity of organised religious extremist groups who routinely targeted minority faiths” she stressed the “restrictions enforced by local-level authorities-by way of demands to register religious places of worship” that continue unabated.
Gehan Gunatilleke, the principle researcher of “Silent Suppression: Restrictions on Religious Freedom of Christians” in his presentation demonstrated the key findings that came as a result of analysing 972 incidents from 1994-2014. The findings pointed to, violence and its correspondence to ethno-religious discourses, the active role of the state in restricting freedom of worship and the enabling role of the state in violence.
The study on “Judicial Responses to Religious Freedom” was carried out through examining a cross-section of judgments on freedom of religion from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Magistrates Court. Sabrina Esufally, Analyst and Head of Law at Verite Research, briefed the audience on the methodology used and the findings of the research. Among the findings presented, Esufally highlighted the “failure to contest the legality of state sponsored religious discrimination” where she also referred to the question of legality surrounding the circulars (2008 and 2010) pertaining to the construction of places of religious worship. One of the main findings of the report also demonstrated how positive orders concerning religious freedom was most often procedural, with a majority of cases concluding through a settlement.
During the discussions that ensued, several of those present, congratulated the NCEASL and Verite Research on the compilation of two very valuable resources. Commenting on the timeliness of the publications, M.A Sumanthiran, Human Rights Lawyer and Member of Parliament who was present as a speaker at the event, stated that “the launch of these two reports is (also) timely for the reason that the issue of a secular state is coming up for discussion in the country with the drafting of a new constitution”. He went onto describe how the steering committee of the constitutional assembly had identified the ‘question of religion in the constitution’ as an important item.
Harim Peiris the former Director General for Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation in highlighting the importance of the role of the reports said that it was an important form of documentation that will help further efforts to lobby and advocate for religious freedom in Sri Lanka. “…. it answers the first obstacle that we face, when one goes to deal with this issue, which is, there’s a contestation on the facts, that this doesn’t happen at all” he said.
For further information, please write to Yamini Ravindran at [email protected]