22 Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights Workshop at OMI Scholasticate, Ampitiya - Kandy, Sri Lanka from the 16th -19th July 2019 organized by the Human Rights Office, Kandy with the theme “To ensure ethnic and religious harmony, Let us promote Human Rights”.
At the outset Dr. Philip Setunga made a brief introduction to the workshop, presenting the purpose and the process, while recalling the discussions and the issues that were raised during the previous workshop held in Galle in February 2019. Since there were few new participants, a brief introduction was given by each participant explaining the areas of work they are engaged in.
Since this was the first gathering of RPHR after the Easter attack on churches, the discussions were focused on the aftermath of the Easter attack and the psychological effects on the victims and the society as a whole (secondary victims), following a presentation made by Dr. Ravindra Ranasinghe. He cited many stories of victims and explained the coordinated effort made at Katuwapitiya with a team of counsellors to address the issues faced by the families of the victims.
Mr. Vasantha Premaratne of ICES - Kandy, highlighted the threats coming from religious extremists supported by political leaders and the involvement of the international terrorist groups. Fr. Jeevantha Pieiris further emphasized the geo-political scenario of which the effects are experienced by the civil society of Sri Lanka and what the response of the church has been.
Transformative efforts since 2009 were discussed by the participants highlighting the socio-political situation that has changed Sri Lankan society after the Easter-Sunday attacks while reflecting upon our responsibility, both short and long term in promoting both ethnic and religious harmony and peaceful co-existence. The discussions were led by Mr. Ruki Fernando & Fr. Jeyabalan Croos with their presentations on government’s responsibility as regards Transitional Justice, Peace-building and Conflict Transformation. Ruki clearly pointed out the lethargic attitude of the political leaders in spite of their commitment to the UN resolution by co-sponsoring it in 2015. Fr. Jeyabalan explained the frustration of the people in the north and East, hoping for a permanent solution to the Ethnic problem with the change of regime in 2015.
Fr. Alvin Peter Fernando presented the biblical perspective of the present situation in Sri Lanka in relation to the Easter attacks on Churches followed a by a discussion and several questions were raised about the faith of the faithful who were made victims with the 4/21 attack.
Dr. Philip Setunga, Fr. Jeyabalan and Fr. Nandana Manatunga shared the best practices and lessons learned from the post-war initiatives such as the multiple income generative activities of the women headed families in the north. One important practice that was highlighted was relating to the birth and the continuation of the RPHR with the participation of the religious members from both communities with a few lay persons. The emerging democracy movement and the struggle of the youth in Hong Kong was explained by Dr. Philip Setunga and a short video was screened.
Emerged issues for action
The meeting was wound up with a vote of thanks for all those that participated and an invitation to get more participants from the other dioceses Chilaw, Kurunegala, Galle and Anuradhapura.
The venue and the dates of our next meeting is to be notified by Fr. Nandana in the months to come.