With COVID 19 health restrictions and guidelines, the workshop of the Religious and Priests for Human Rights (RPHR) was held at Fatima Retreat House, Lewella – Kandy from the 09th - 12th February 2021 with 28 participants from different parts of the country.
Usually the February workshop is held outside Kandy, however due to COVID 19 pandemic, the workshop was held at Lewella - Kandy.
2021 Human Rights workshop for Religious & Priests was inaugurated with a short memorial service for the late Sr. Alexander Molligoda (sisters of charity) who was an active member of RPHR. As an appreciation to her dedicated services, a visual presentation was made about her life and ministry, illustrating her work with prisoners both in Galle & Boossa.
Rev. Fr. Sathgunaraj, the Parish Priest of Hewaheta explained the difficulties and challenges in the field of education the children are faced with. He further said that he goes out of his way to encourage the children of the plantation community to somehow aim for higher education.
On the 11th February Fr. Jeyabalan Croos made a presentation during the first session on “Challenges for the people in the North” and he explained about the 10 key demands that were made in the “P2P” Walk for Justice which was organized by the North and East Civil Society Organizations to draw attention to the key issues faced by the Tamil community, Tea Plantation workers and Muslim Communities.
Mr. Ruki Fernando made a presentation on the 20th Amendment and its consequences. He explained the differences of the amendments made in the constitution regarding the executive powers and checks and balances. This was followed by a discussion and the participants said that the religious leaders and the civil society members should be made aware of the present situation. Further he raised awareness on the ongoing issues and campaigns: such as the protest launched by the farmers in Hambanthota, Forced Cremations, struggle for daily wages of the tea plantation workers, denial of memorialization in the North and the P2P Walk for Justice.
Fr. Nishantha Cooray TOR, made a very challenging scriptural presentation on the theme “Our mission for the voiceless with shrinking democratic space" He explained how the people of God had to struggle for freedom, equality and democracy. “Pilate was carried away by the public opinion when he had to decide on Jesus and often we too are carried away by the public opinion”. He stressed the need for the priests and religious to be prophetic. “Sri Lanka needs convinced, caring and creative people”.
Mr. Charaka Dharmasiri & Mr. Suren D. Perera, the legal counselors of HRO explained what contempt of court means, sighting examples of recent incidents. Further, they explained how the Sri Lankan Government has limited the democratic space of the people by using the ICPPR Act to curtail the freedom of expression. There were several questions raised by the participants that led to a lively discussion.
The workshop was concluded with a thanksgiving mass on the evening of the 11th February. On behalf of the organizing committee, Fr. Nandana thanked all the participants who joined the workshop from different parts of the country, making an extra effort despite of the current COVID 19 situation. Further, it was proposed that the next workshop also to be held in Kandy in July 2021.
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