Exactly after a decade of the civil war- since the declaration of cessation of the military intervention by the State, the need for an evaluation of our own initiatives was felt essential in the present context. Hence the Human Rights Workshop for Religious and Priests focused to make a personal assessment of one’s own initiatives for justice and reconciliation with theme “Let us reflect on our own involvements to envision future commitments”. Thus, the meeting was to create an occasion for each other who have been meeting since 2003.
The workshop was held from the 04th - 07th February 2019 at the Pastoral Centre, Halpathota, in Galle Diocese with 31 participants.
As the first activity of the workshop the participants were an exposure to the efforts in the promotion of justice and reconciliation by Caritas Galle. The Director Rev. Fr. Herman Fernando made a presentation of various initiatives on Peace & reconciliation by his team. He spoke of the challenges faced as the Galle Diocesan Caritas being located in an area perceived to be of hard-core Sinhalese with the least inclination for reconciliation. However, in the presentation and in the subsequent discussion it transpired that, our perception was not real as small number of groups some of whom with the backing of the members of the Buddhist clergy have established links with a few groups and Catholic organizations in the north. It was however felt, that these initiatives should further be developed to challenge the current resistance for any political solution to the problems faced by the minorities could be mitigated or minimized.
During the discussion that followed the same evening at the Pastoral Centre, Halpathota, Rev. Fr. Charles Hewawasam the Vicar General of the diocese briefed the participants on similar efforts made by a number of groups with the objective of building bridges between the two communities.
Campaign for wages by the plantation workers
The members who had been involved in the campaign for “a wage increase for the plantation workers”, urged that solidarity action should be taken by the group so that more pressure is exerted on the church leaders to intervene on behalf of the plantation workers. It was revealed that the plantation workers continue to make their contributions on a monthly basis to the church despite their meager income. Thus, a church that benefits from the poor plantation workers has the bounden duty to defend their right for a just income.
It was agreed that the Statement issued by Bishop Raymond be further expanded and sent to all the Bishops with copies to the members of the international community drawing their attention to this just cause.
An update on the present situation by Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
On the second day of the workshop, a presentation was prefaced by Fr. Jeyabalan Croos with a briefing on an event that took place in the town of Vavuniya on 30th of January 2019 with the participation of a few members (Fr. Jeyabalan, Fr. Nandana , Dr. Philip Setunga & Ms. Logesh) of RPHR. The members of the families of the disappeared/missing from the various quarters in the North, East and the North-West had converged in Vavuniya to lay a public claim to justice to the missing persons and their kith and kin. The promises made by respective governments have been empty and that the creation of the Office of the Missing Persons, has not meant anything significant. Therefore, Fr. Jeayabalan urged the members of the need to provide solidarity to groups and organizations that continue to clamor for justice to the loved ones, without which no reconciliation can be envisaged. He added that in some instances the struggle by the people have had limited success as in the case of Iranathivu, the others are compelled to campaign for their rights for land, employment, etc. The initiatives by small groups in the south may have had limited success, yet the attitudes of the majority as regards ‘reconciliation’ remains quite negative, with chances of any significant changes remaining quite elusive and distant. Hence the challenge to the churches for vigorous effort for attitudinal changes.
Update on Mullikkulam
This occasioned the presence of Fr. Lawrence Leon, who has been appointed the parish priest of Mullikkulam. It was the first time that we had with us a priest in charge for the area, who could explain the present situation. The people that came and settled down in the church premises around June 2018, he said are all given 7 perches of church land to build their houses and settle down, while counting on the Sri Lankan navy to vacate the houses of the villagers that have been occupied since 2007.
A matter of great concern
Fr. Jeevantha Peiris of Ratnapura Diocese, drew the attention of the group to the campaign of the members of the Tamil community in the Mulaithivu District against the colonization on of the Section “L” of the Mahaveli scheme. The traditional Tamil lands are offered to the families of the Sinhalese brought from the south of the country perhaps in a bid to create a mixed community, thus preventing the formation of a north eastern unit as has been demanded by the Tamil community. Besides, the Tamil people that fled the area in shambles during the war, cannot trace their deeds to claim ownership of the land. This is paving the way for the State to distribute the land among the Sinhalese peasants who eventually might find stranded as the river is no longer capable of providing water to the newly opened areas. Fr. Jeevantha was requested to keep us updated on its developments for further action.
The formal workshop & the meeting closed with the Eucharist celebration on the 06th evening.
Fr. Nandana after thanking all for their active participation, announced that the next meeting is scheduled to be held in Kandy in July 2019 and the dates would be informed.