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Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is deeply divided on the proposed Resolution at the UNHRC

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By Kshama Ranawana

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?

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  1. Kshama Ranawana says,
    …..Christians are called upon .. against injustice and oppression, ..not to unite to give the oppressor a free ride.…..impossible to believe Church is unaware..
    Church knows better , how the North has changed dramatically with people get on with normal lives peacefully, farming, fishing, trading, engaging in flourishing tourism after 30 years, Children schooling with no fear of Child abduction by Terrorists & Further new roads/ school buildings/ hospitals/ markets places being built by GOSL with hard earned Southern people’s tax money & with help from our friends like China & India (since Western enemies don’t give any help- that’s their love for North’s Tamils ? )
    …It begs the question then; who is insulting the intelligence of the people?….
    West is insulting intelligence of people by getting away with killing over one million civilians in Iraq & Afghanistan during last 15 years & killing more than 04 million civilians in Vietnam & now seeing a crocodile in Sri Lankan Tea cup.
    Read more– http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2012/02/how-great-is-us-human-rights-record.html

    ….regime fails to keep its promises…. North …under the military ….
    North will have to be under military for some time since Fr. Emmanuel Diaspora terrorists are hell bent on resurrecting dead LTTE.
    ….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.”…
    Yes in deed, I salute the Church.

    …How does the Church hierarchy in Sri Lanka reconcile itself …How does the Church plan on winning the trust of all of her community…..
    Church should be patriotic & Catholics too, (in fact they are), for example , if I am not mistaken, our Air Force Commander during the final years of war (Air Chief Martial Rosh an G) Our fighting ambassadors, Sri Lanka’s (as western media dubbed )“Fire Wall” at Geneva ( when he was our UN ambassador- Dr. Dayan J ) & incumbent (Tamara K). Head of GOSL delegation (Mahinda S). ( those should pardon me if I was wrong)
    Aren’t the whole nation proud of them??? Because of these & thousands of similar patriotic Catholics, all the Catholics are as proud as Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka, in deed this is the way to go, for ever.
    Nation salutes heroes, non other than Mahinda S was bestowed with honorary title by Buddhist Chief Monks after his heroic performances in 2009 confronting SL’s western enemies.
    Who ever doubts this correct path would only repent later.
    SL Catholic Church Cannot Take “Emmanuel Path”

  2. The divided opinion of the Catholic Church vis a vis the Resolution before the UNHCR is nothing but a case of Sinhala Catholic Opinion and Tamil Catholic opinion.What a disgrace!

  3. “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.”

    “this regime” should be amended as ” past and present regimes of Sri Lanka”

  4. 1983 it was only the Bishop of Kurnagala raised concern about what has happened to Tamils during the pogrom-1983. Now it could be deciphered some more Sinhalese are raising concern whatever the reason could be. Thank you Ranawana. You are one of them. history will remember this.

  5. It is common knowledge that the Catholic Clergy in the North helped the LTTE all along.

    Even to date, one of them is leading one of the strongest and most influential pro LTTE Diaspora factions.

    US resolution is more than asking the Govt to implement the LLRC recommendation, although the writer has somehow missed it.

    Srilanlan Catholic Church has to look after her followers in all parts of the country and not just the North and the East.

    The Church should project the image that it is an impartial organization and does not bow down to any political forces with in or outside.

    That is the only way the Church can grow its influence among the majority.

    Tamil Clergy banding together and driving the political agenda of the Diaspora with the assistance of the English speaking West, lead by the US, does not help the overall interests of the Catholic Church.

    The future growth of the Catholic church is mainly in the regions other than the North.

    Also the great majority of the Catholics are now Sinhala people.

    They are now living in a peaceful environment, looking after their families without the fear of terrorist attacks, and enjoy the freedom of travelling to their holy places like Madhu, which had been out of bounds to the great majority of Catholics for a quater century..

    It is inevitable that the Head and a majority of the Bishops are now from the Sinhala majority.

    Since the defeat of the LTTE, there has been a well orchestrated campaign to label these Church leaders as biased,which is far from the truth.

    Opinion makers should realize these facts and write up conciliatory messages, rather than trying to drive a wedge between the Sinhala and Tamil Catholics.

    It is sad that the Tamil clergy and their eminent followers arei in the forefront in this divisive campaign.

  6. Agree with Rajakaruna.

    Btw, Malcolm Ranjith has lost his shirt, the poor fellow has no credibility. He was forced to act on the Mother Teresa convent issue, that too whining that he is forced to act by foreign media.

    Malcolm Ranjith must be reminded of the hymn we sang after the 1983 riots.

    ” whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me “.


  7. The Catholics in Sri Lanka are not divided. Only the head of the Sri Lankan Catholic church seems to have a different agenda. His previous statements attest to this agenda. His behaviour is very un-christian. Hope he will repent and see the light.

  8. It is common knowledge that it is a special unit within the Army that is Going
    around the Country in White Vans & abducting People & then Killing them .
    Most well informed & educated people in the Country also no that it was an
    Army Hit squad under the direction of then Commander Sarath Fonseka
    along with Gotta Rajapaksa ( they were the best of pals at the time, till Sarath
    pocketed $500,000 Cash on Arms Deal, Gotta got angry over this as all
    Arms Deal Commission’s $$ Money is Gotta Rajapaksa Family Gang Money).

  9. Everyone is predicting doom and gloom if the resolution is passed against Sri Lanka but none of these people can tell you what it is that will happen to our country. See the response from “Kalu Albert”. He says “US resolution is more than asking the Govt to implement the LLRC recommendation” but does not say what it is. You’ll see this pattern everywhere by this group. They all playing the boogie man, no doubt, taking a cue from the Rajapaksas.

    Also, notice that they don’t dispute the White Van epidemic, grease devils, extortion, murders, ministers in drug trade etc. If the so called “patriots” are the people who support/condone these underworld activities, then I don’t want to be seen associated with these “patriots”. Shame on you people who only demand justice for yourselves but not for other.

  10. Right throughout our past history Catholic Church has raised it’s voice and fought against any injustice or wrong that is done to the poeple whether he or she blongs to any perticular community or relegion. They always fearlessly supported the people who have been denyed excistance by the majority to live in freedom and to have a peaceful life taking care of their lives with out any hinderence from any body. When they give their support they dont think in terms of caste, race or creed but only on humanitarian basis. Jesus was born for this and he died for this. If so, why are the so called Catholic Church in South of Sr Lanka is afraid to talk against the government who was and still doing injustice to minortiy people. If they have really killed the innocent Tamils during the tail end of war knowingly or unknowingly please accept the mistake and ask the Tamil people to forgive them and compensate adiquatily so the poeple could forget the past and move forward with the rest of the community to built the country. Instead the government of Mahinda is trying to throw salt to the wound to make it worse and our Catholic Church is giving them 100% support. When every day people are kidnapped and by the white van and then killed or raped and the bodies are thrown like garbage on the streets and bushes what is our Chatholic leaders doing. These are happening right in front of your eyes why are you Cathalic Church in Colombo silent or show their support to the ruthless government who has killed thousands during the war and keeps on doing after the war ended three years ago??

  11. kalu Albert:
    You mentioned about Catholic clergy, What about Buddhist Monks? What was there role during ethnic cleansing activities of the government (during 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983 and continually there after in the name of war against terrorism)
    Are you expecting the Catholic church to listen only to Sinhalese?
    you said this: “They are now living in a peaceful environment, looking after their families without the fear of terrorist attacks, and enjoy the freedom of travelling to their holy places like Madhu, which had been out of bounds to the great majority of Catholics for a quater century..”
    How will you then explain the disappearances happening, to those who challenge the government and goivernment policies. Can you remember Gotta justifying that?

  12. Catholic church divided in Sri Lanka after the 1983 riots. Rt. Rev. Bishop Theogupillai realized it was dangerous to send seminarians to south for studies after the 83 riots and decied to start separate seminary at Colombothurai.

    Jesus born to free oppressed people. It is not surprizing that Tamil priests involve in the freedom of thier own people.
    Liberation theologeans say that Church has the duty to act as agent of liberation. It must attempt to articulate its words, its catechesis, its liturgy, its community action, and its interventions with established authority, in the direction of liberation.

  13. Isn’t all this and the rest is god’s will due to his mysterious ways, which you will never understand?

  14. Isn’t all this division and the rest is god’s will due to his mysterious ways, which we will never understand?

  15. The catholic church has never until recently taken a proper stand on this terrorist issue. For those catholic clergy in the north the LTTE were “their boys while the south remained quite silent apärt from a few members of the clergy who named the LTTE to be simply a terrorist outfit.Why couldnt teh church simply called a spade a spade and named the LTTE a terrorist outfit ?

  16. The Christians are the only community that have Thamil and Sinhala people in it, yet it is divided along ethnic lines. The tragedy of racism.

    Have the Christians really made a difference in our country?

    Have the Christians stood up when it mattered most?

  17. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,
    Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  18. Che Guerra was a terrorist to the US and the West. But for Asia and Latin America, he was a liberator. So one man’s terrorist is another man’s liberator! Most opinions/ events/ happenings are relative.

    Catholics or anybody for that matter cannot condone terrorism.Catholics, even if other nod, cannot but raise their voice against violence, war, denial of basic rights etc. for any group of humans, call them Tamils, Biharis, Adivasis et al.

    The church and Christians must stand for justice, peace and love. We cannot run with the rabbit and hunt with the fox! Amen

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