Clergy urge United Nations to act on Sri Lanka

Clergy urge United Nations to act on Sri Lanka

One hundred and thirty three clergy and members of religious orders in Sri Lanka have written to the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for action.

Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, is among those calling for “a strong and action oriented resolution in relation to accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka, which will go beyond the resolution adopted at the 19th session of the Council”, which was “rather weak”.

It was a courageous move by the men and women involved. As the letter points out, “In the last year, those criticising and challenging the government in peaceful ways including by engagement with the UN, have been assaulted, questioned, arrested, threatened, discredited and intimidated by government ministers, officials, military and police. Victims include some of us and fellow clergy who are not signing this letter due to fear of reprisals.”

Evidence continues to emerge about serious crimes by both government and Tiger forces in the closing stages of a brutal conflict, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead. The UN and international community have been urged by activists to challenge the Sri Lankan regime – along with all other governments – to investigate past abuses and prevent future violations.

The letter focuses on “issues confronting the Tamil people, particularly in the North and East” but also warns of “increasing authoritarianism all over Sri Lanka”. These include “The most recent impeachment of the Chief Justice bypassing Court decisions and due process, attacks and threats on judges and lawyers”.

The signatories call for firm measures, including “an international and independent commission of inquiry to look into allegations of violations of international law by all sides during the war” and “a Special Representative /Rapporteur on Sri Lanka”.

Earlier in February 2013, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a highly critical report on Sri Lanka and called for “an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”.

Many Sri Lankans are too afraid to speak out, or reluctant to recognise the seriousness of the situation. But the letter is a reminder that truth and justice are necessary if the wounds of past conflicts are to be healed.

* The full clergy statement can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/anvkwbs

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a commentator on social justice, politics and religion. Originally from Sri Lanka, she works in the care and equalities sector in London. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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