n a message to mark International Human Rights Day, the Bishops of the Church and the Church of Ceylon called upon all Sri Lankans to join the United Nations of the world to reaffirm their commitment to the equality of all human beings who are “born free and equal in dignity and rights” while expressing that many distressing developments have taken place in the country which undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
In the statement, the Church expressed the following points:
1. Two and a half years after the Easter Sunday massacre, there seems to be more focus on harassing those calling for truth and justice on behalf of those who lost their lives, rather than ascertaining and revealing the masterminds behind the biggest civilian massacre of the post-civil war era;
2. Twelve years after the end of the protracted civil war, despite Government commitments to pursue truth and justice in relation to war times abuses that included enforced disappearances, the aerial bombardment of hospitals, places of sanctuary and religious worship, the institutions and mechanisms responsible have made little progress and there is concern about backsliding in this important area for post war national reconciliation;
3. Many significant human rights violations that affect the equality and dignity of persons and undermine the Rule of Law remain unaddressed. These include the killings during the Rathupaswela protests, the killing of labour rights activist Roshane Chanaka, PTA detainees, Nimalaruben and Dilrukshan, the abduction of journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda, the abduction of 11 youth and men and the Welikada prison massacres;
4. We note with concern the continuing killings, “suicides” and torture in police custody and prisons despite appeals and prior warnings expressed by the Bar Association, Human Rights Commission, the media and other civil society groups;
5. We also condemn the continued unjustified incarceration of Hejaz Hisbullah, Attorney at Law, and the poet, Ahnaf Jazeem, despite repeated appeals for their release:
6. We call upon the Government to pay particular attention to the equal rights and dignity of marginalized groups who have also had to deal with the challenges of the Covid pandemic: the workers on estates and factories, farmers, those who work in the informal sector and the fishing communities,several of whom have even been driven to suicide.
7. The recent appalling and brutal murder of the Sri Lankan factory manager, Priyantha Kumara Diyawardena, in Pakistan, reminds us of the responsibility of religious leaders to counter religious extremism within their respective religious traditions. The Church of Ceylon in Sri Lanka, while expressing our deepest condolences and prayers to his wife and two children, commits itself to this endeavour and ensures that the human rights of all are respected and inter-faith initiatives strengthened to curb religious extremism.
In conclusion, the Church of Ceylon said that in a society based on the Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy these matters should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
In terms of the One Country One Law Task Force, the Church commented that it raises serious constitutional issues both with respect to the manner it was established and its mandate, quite apart from its composition, while further raising serious concerns about the Government’s commitment to pluralism and minority rights.
It also mentioned that the Government should respect the right of people to dissent and engage in advocacy on the issues outlined above, and, in general, for human rights, pluralism, democracy and truth with justice.