Schism and doubt are the great enemies Bishops are expected to combat, and at all times try to avoid among the clergy and the flock.
Yet it seems that the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is deeply divided on the proposed resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The resolution is calling for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission and accountability for alleged war crimes in the war between the Sri Lankan State and the Tamil Tigers
In her official statements the Roman Catholic Church of Sri Lanka is denouncing any international effort at monitoring the implementation of the LLRC recommendations as well as external investigations into war crimes allegations. The Church says “it is an undue meddling in the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka.
At the same time, it is also an insult to the intelligence of the people of Sri Lanka.”
In sharp contrast a group of Catholic clergy from the North of the country, have written to the UNHRC urging that an “international independent and effective mechanism to monitor and address accountability issues not dealt with by the LLRC” be appointed.
The letter signed by Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph and thirty other clergy also asks that the government be held accountable to implementing the LLRC recommendations with a time bound, detailed and specific action plan, and report back on progress made on implementation, to the UNHRC.
Predictably, Bishop Joseph and his group earned the wrath of the Right-wing Jathika Hela Urumaya party, a member of the governing coalition which, according to the BBC, called for the prosecution of the Bishop. Websites and media supporting the government too castigated the group.
The radio station Hirunews reported that Rev. Benedict Joseph, media spokesperson for the Catholic Church claimed that the stand taken by the northern clergy was not the opinion of the Catholic community of Sri Lanka. Rev. Benedict, is also quoted as saying that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith had already established that the Catholic community believes that Sri Lanka should understand and implement the recommendations of the LLRC report.
This would have been acceptable if the Church had indeed engaged the Catholics in an open discussion on whether or not an international mechanism to ensure accountability was necessary. Or whether, they were satisfied with the LLRC recommendations and confident of its implementation by the government.
Was a survey of any sort carried out to determine this issue? If such an exercise was undertaken, surely, the misgivings of the northern community would have come to light.
The assumption that there is such a consensus was challenged by a letter signed by, sixty four prominent Sri Lankan Civil society actors, Sinhala and Tamil priests and nuns, and Christian and non –Christians.
They too wrote to the UNHRC endorsing the letter sent by the Northern Catholic clergy. This letter said, “express our grave concerns about intimidation and discrediting of the signatories of the initial letter and in particular the Bishop of Mannar, by media such as the Sunday Divaina, websites and even government’s coalition partners such as the JathikaHelaUrumaya and National Freedom Front by accusing the Bishop of aspiring to become Cardinal of Tamil Eelam and that he should be arrested and prosecuted.”
In his Independence Day message, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith states “Not only in the North but in the South as well, the leaders should, without being enmeshed in narrow prejudices, enter a path of national responsibility, bereft of party political agenda. In the attempt of achieving an enduring peace through justice and equity, it is of paramount importance that we launch on a programme capable of building mutual trust.”
Should not this same message then be first applied within the Church? Should not this all important issue of re-building a united nation be addressed in a manner that will not alienate one section of the community?
How does the Church plan on winning the trust of all of her community, if, when she takes a stand on any issue, she does not reflect the aspirations of all?
The clergy in the north, even at the risk of being labeled LTTE has always stood by the people. When even the simplest of the LLRC recommendations, such as having the national anthem sung in both Sinhala and Tamil, has not yet been implemented, it is not surprising that the people of the north, including its Church leaders have little confidence in this government’s oft repeated promises ? No wonder they want external monitoring.
In the same way we can ask how Cardinal Ranjith can have confidence that the government would implement the LLRC recommendations. In his own statement, the Cardinal says that the authoritative reply “to the unwarranted interference is to immediately implement the recommendations of the LLRC report.” The statement further adds that it requests “Sri Lankans to unite together in this matter leaving behind all differences of race or religion.”
In other words, are Sri Lankans being asked to overlook the human rights abuses that have and continue to take place and let the government get away once again by pulling the wool over the eyes of its citizenry?
Interestingly, the Catholic Messenger in its editorial of February 26, 2012, entitled, “Duplicity in the corridors of power”, says that the government is morally bound to implement the recommendations of the LLRC. It claims that the continued setting up of military camps in the north is not in keeping with the LLRC’s recommendations, and is an indication of the government’s duplicity.
The Messenger has published the recommendations of the LLRC and in its issue of March 18, 2012, titled “Understanding the opposition to the Geneva Resolution” Jehan Perera states that “Thus, the only major post-war constitutional reform engaged in by the government has been the passage of the 18th Amendment. But this further centralized power in the Presidency and weakened institutions of State and thereby further undermined the separation of powers.
By way of contrast, the main thrust of the LLRC’s recommendations is the restoration of the Rule of Law and the sharing and devolution of power. It may be here, and not in nationalism alone, that the answer as to why the government is opposing the resolution in Geneva that will call on it to implement these same recommendations may be found.”
We can see here that the Church has informed her community that the government has failed to act upon the LLRC recommendations.
This regime must win the Guinness award for the number of commissions it has appointed, though no action has ever been taken on any of the reports. There was the APRC fiasco which dragged on for at least five years.
It raised the expectations of all concerned, and, while the Commission held it sittings it gave the government an excuse from bringing forth a resolution to the ethnic conflict.
Then there was the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, chaired by retired Supreme Court Judge NissankaUdalagama, which was appointed to look into serious human rights violations including the killings of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar, the five youth in Trincomalee, and the 17 aid workers of Action Contre Le Faim in Muttur and the disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown. That commission came to an abrupt stop.
It is as clear as day that this regime sets up commissions as a ruse to detract the masses from agitating for their rights. The President has made grandiose statements about the LLRC but failed to implement two of the most important recommendations; the restoration of the rule of law and the devolution of power.
Two recommendations, that if implemented, would curtail the government and its acolytes from squandering the country’s resources, prevent corruption at least to a point and return to the police and the judiciary the powers required to ensure law and order in the country sans political interference.
In fact, the LLRC regrets in its final report that the government has failed to give effect to the rule of law. Instead the Rajapaksa regime spends billions of rupees in whipping up nationalist sentiments and sending its stooges around the world to spout untruths and stall international intervention.
Whether reported by journalists, Channel 4, Amnesty International or the man on the street, it has long been apparent that grave human rights violations have taken place and continue in the north and the east. Under the present regime human rights violations have escalated as never before in the South as well. White van abductions and killings continue unabated.
People who dare file Fundamental Rights applications are abducted, never to be heard of again. Civilians have been killed simply because they dared to protect their daily wage; Roshen Chanaka who protested the government’s pension scheme and Anthony Fernando who protested the fuel price hike were shot dead in broad daylight by a government that used live ammunition against unarmed protestors.
Government party politicians fare no better; just last week the Mayor of Kollonnawa, Ravindra Udaya Shantha narrowly escaped white van abduction. The abductors, who are reportedly army soldiers, were caught and handed over to the police only to be released by a DIG. The OIC of the Wellampitiya police, meanwhile, has been transferred out for acting as a police officer should. And we are all aware of how the the Duminda Silva-Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra fiasco has been handled.
Dissenters are terrorized either into submission, driven away or murdered. The economic burden even on the well –to-do is beyond description
Christians are called upon to speak up against injustice and oppression, to see beyond colour and creed; not to unite to give the oppressor a free ride. How does the Church hierarchy in Sri Lanka reconcile itself with the manner the government conducts itself and the stand she takes to support it?
It is impossible to believe that the Church is unaware that this regime fails to keep its promises, that the people of the North continue to be under the military and that the South is riddled with violence and corruption.
It begs the question then; who is insulting the intelligence of the people?