Recovering and Reconciling Through Religion

Interfaith Consultation on the Transitional Justice Process in Sri Lanka

Kurukkal Rasanayagam Sri Krishnan, who is also the Principal of the Elpitiya Divitura Vivekananda Tamil Vidyalayam in Galle, is one of the faith leaders who participated at the interfaith consultation on the Transitional Justice process in Sri Lanka, conducted by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL). Favoured with a mild persona, Kurukkal Rasanayagam deftly communicates his often-forthright views on the topics of faith, politics and peace. “As religious leaders it’s our responsibility to instil humane qualities among the members of our communities, so that the terrors of the past don’t repeat itself ” he says, explaining his presence at the consultation.

Moulawi Rashid, a young Muslim leader from Hambantota and also a lecturer at the Jamiah Naleemiah Islamic University, echoes Kurukkal Rasanayagam’s sentiments. “As religious leaders, we can play an influential role in speaking about reconciliation and coexistence through our belief systems. The government is showing a positive signal for this and we should take advantage of this positive signal” he said, hopeful about the space and the opportunity that was created with the new administration and eager for the discussions that were to follow that day.

Kurukkal Rasanayagam and Moulawi Rashid are joined by 12 other faith leaders, from all the major faiths in Sri Lanka, at a discussion convened by the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the NCEASL. The RLC in it’s efforts to contribute towards sustainable peace and support the government’s post war recovery and reconciliation efforts, have identified the marked lack of consciousness among key stakeholders – such as faith leaders, on the process initiated by the government.

Religion in Sri Lanka plays a very significant role, both spiritually and culturally and helps thereby communities determine how they respond to issues concerning justice, reconciliation and peace building in Sri Lanka. It was with the intention of facilitating an opportunity for dialogue and equipping faith leaders with the expertise and knowledge to influence their communities and engage with the mechanisms introduced by the government, that NCEASL set out to conduct a series of consultations with faith leaders.

The consultation held on 09 September in Koggala was first in this series and brought together faith leaders living in the Galle and Monaragala districts. Lakshan Dias, a leading Human Rights Lawyer in Sri Lanka, opened the days session with an introduction to Transitional Justice and went onto explore together with the participants, issues and concerns in the areas of truth seeking, reconciliation, non-recurrence, reparation and constitutional reform.

Prof. Jayantha Seneviratne, co-founder of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation and renowned academic and expert on conflict resolution facilitated the session that followed. He led the participants through a discussion that explored the religious perspectives of Transitional Justice: truth, justice, compassion and forgiveness.

Moulawi Rashid who hadn’t had a very comprehensive understanding of the concept of Transitional Justice, had found himself however, eager to engage with efforts to transition from post-war to peace. “I have taken part in several initiatives like this before – but this programme had a difference. This was the first time I had the opportunity to share my opinion as well. This wasn’t convened in the format of a lecture – it was a discussion where there was a lot of interaction” he said commenting on how beneficial he found the time of discussion and sharing.

Moulawi Rashid who conducts the Jumma sermons bi-monthly in his village, feels that these sermons would prove the perfect occasion to share these ideals on reconciliation and coexistence. As a lecturer, Moulawi Rashid feels that he would be able to engage his University students on these topics. “…there are about 350 students enrolled there – Muslim students. As a teacher – as a lecturer, I can share this with them. Furthermore, those students are representative of different parts of the Island – the South, the East, the North and West,” said Moulawi Rashid confident in what he hopes to share with his students.

Ven. Sirisumana Thero, of the Purana Raja Maha Viharaya in Monaragala commenting on the importance of such consultations, felt that it was also important however to engage the higher echelons of religious leadership. Rev. P.W Nelson of the Church of South India, encouraged by the discussion, also stressed the importance of faith leaders in this process, emphasizing the importance of furthering, developing and encouraging the practice of tolerance among different religious traditions.

The NCEASL is confident that this consultation and the consultations that are to follow, while raising awareness will help support proposed government initiatives on the transitional justice process. The “Compassionate Council” that will be established with the motive of helping the victims discover the truth and find justice, will be formed within a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission and will be made up of leaders from the main religions. Through these consultations, the NCEASL expects that while encouraging faith leaders to engage with this process it will also function as an opportunity to identify suitable faith leaders who can serve on such a council.

 

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