36 Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop at the Oblate Scholasticate - Ampitiya in Kandy, Sri Lanka from the 17th to 20th July 2017 with the theme of “To seek enlightenment and spiritual enrichment”. It was the first time that we have had a meeting at the Oblate Scholasticate in Kandy, where the atmosphere was quite conducive for a meeting of this nature with its seclusion, pleasant climate and the undisturbed surroundings. There were more than 15 lay persons for the first two days, following up the session of Professor Sunil Wijesinghe who made a presentation last year in 2016.
The workshop was planned to combine four dimensions: a) educational, b) collective response to the challenges posed by St. Joseph Vaz in the present day context, c) spiritual reflections. d) Personal reflections.
Professor Sunil Wijesinghe from a Buddhist background further developed the theoretical frameworks for reconciliation between various communities in the country that was first introduced a year ago. He enlightened the group with certain Buddhist concepts, which are very supportive of reconciliation, particularly the concept of “equality” and the “dignity” of human persons. He took the trouble to explain the inter-connectivity among various personal, social, political and the natural where when one component of any of the systems is disrupted, how the entire system is disturbed and everyone is made to suffer. Therefore the need to respect and safeguard the system while promoting creative changes to the benefit of everyone.
The education part also included the new Act on Right to Information, presented by Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
b) Collective Response to the Challenges posed by St. Joseph Vaz in the present day context.
The discussion was preceded by a vivid presentation by Fr. Aanada Fernando that touched on some of the highlights of the life and the work of St. Joseph Vaz mostly with the communities in the south of the country. Fr. Ananda pointed out the challenges posed for us by the saint for our times which touches on every aspect of life as food, clothing, travelling, and dealing with various communities, the ruling elite and the governing officials including the king. He said, the approaches he had adopted in dealing with the common persons and the officials are good for us to emulate.
This sharing was followed by a presentation by Ruki Fernando, where he also drew the lessons for us from the life and work of St. Joseph Vaz for instance his approaches in dealing with the members of non-Christian communities. Dialogue has been found to be the hallmark of his approach to other religious communities, which he said is quite relevant for us living in the context of antipathies and prejudices even attacks on persons and places of worship of other faith denominations.
These two presentations were followed by a lengthy discussion. The relevance of St. Joseph Vaz’s mission for reconciliation, our attitudes towards other religions, were some of the points around which the discussion was held.
) Spiritual Refractions
Scripture Reflection was led by Fr. Jeyabalan Croos taking the scripture passage Luke 15/1 The Parable of the Lost Sheep, where Jesus associates with the poor, the blind, the lame, the hungry, the miserable, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors,. The reference was a well-defined and unmistakable section of the population. Analyzing this Fr. Jeyabalan said that todays some might refer to this section of the population as the lower class or the oppressed. Further he challenged the participants with the question whether we are willing to associate the so called poor, that category that includes what Luke speaks of.
d) Personal Reflections
Since the inception of this meeting of the members of the clergy from both communities, it has been the standard practice to share with each other their own involvements, particularly in the field of human rights, as well as their own experience in the given context. This matter has largely been neglected due to other pressing issues and activities. Thus it was decided to revive this custom of sharing of experience in the act of “Renewing the Face of the Earth” with the Spirit of Risen Christ.
So the time of taken by most of the participants for the sharing, which was found to be quite enriching.
NEXT MEETING: 05th to 08th February 2018 at BANDARAWELA. An exposure visit to Subaseth Gedera in Buttala of Fr. Michael Rodrigo is proposed as part of the meeting.
In view making a joint submission for the 03rd Cycle of the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) on Sri Lanka scheduled to take place in November 2017 during the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a special meeting took place on the 01st & 02nd February 2017 at Madhu Retreat House in Mannar with the participation of Human Rights activists, Priests & Religious. This was followed by the RPHR meeting on the 03rd & 04th February with the theme “Together, Let us protect our Rights”.
Since the participants who gathered were actively involved in most important issues of the country and were experts of different fields the discussions were rich, lively and practical. The discussions were further enriched by Budi (Franciscans International, Geneva), Sr. Yolanda (Good Shepard Sisters, Geneva), Fr. Mike Deeb (Domincan, Rome / Geneva)
The present Human rights situation of the country was discussed with the Panelists:
Ruki Fernando then made a presentation on Domestic & International trends in relation to Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Introduced the UN system, UN & Human Rights in Sri Lanka, with a focus on March UNHRC session. It was followed by sharing of experiences and additional comments by Yamini (NCEASL) and others with experience of UPR general discussion.
UPR experiences from other countries, successes, challenges, tips for Sri Lanka were presented by Budi Tjahjono, Sr. Yolanda Sanchez and Fr. Mike Deeb OP. This was followed by the Prioritizing the focus areas for UPR submissions and lobbying.
After several discussions, it was decided to assign one person from each group to prepare the draft for the submission and sent to Ruki & Fr. Nandana. Further the committee agreed to meet along with the coordinators to review the drafts and finalize the submission. Philip Setunga, Budi, Fr. Rohan Dominic and Fr. Nandana Manatunga were appointed as Coordinators while responsibility of preparing the drafts were assigned.
· Tea Plantation - Fr. Camillus Janz
· Women - Sarah Arumugam
· Children - Sr. Niluka Perera
· Cultural Rights, especially Religious freedom - Yamini Ravinpran
· Prisoners, detainees, former combatants - Fr. Nandana Saparamadu
· IDPs & Land - Fr. Dilan SSS
· Disappeared - Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
· Transitional Justice, Criminal accountability - Ruki Fernando
· Sustainable Development & Environment - Port city etc. - Fr. Manoj
The RPHR meeting which followed began with a Scripture Reflection on “The parable of Good Samaritan” led by Fr. Jeyabalan. Participants then shared their experiences in the light of the parable. Program for the women headed families were shared by Philip Setunga, Sr. Vijaya and Fr. Jeyabalan.
Bishop Kingsley Swampillai the Apostolic administrator, bishop of Mannar, joined the RPHR meeting on the 03rd evening and shared his views while listening to the sharing of the participants from different parts of the country. The delay of ensuring rights of the Tamil people in the North & East by the present government was highlighted. Releasing of land occupied by the military was pointed out as an urgent issue that requires attention. The Bishop condoned with the people as hopes on the present regime is gradually diminishing.
A presentation was made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga on campaigning for Prison reforms against inhuman degrading treatment. The congestion of the prisoners with death sentence and life imprisonment at Kandy Bogambara - Dumbara prison was explained by Fr. Nandana and said that during his recent visit to the Kandy Bogambara - Dumbara prison ward - D where prisoners serve the death sentence, “we found 74 prisoners detained in one cell ( 70x 30 ) and as many as 55-60 prisoners detained in one single cell and, both prisoners with life imprisonment and death sentence mixed in same prison cell due to lack of space.
He further stated that “the undue delay imbedded in the system of adjudication have come to a point where suspects are held indefinitely in prisons and families of suspects have to pay the lawyers for many years selling out all what they have without any recourse. Prolonged litigation creates a culture that encourages many forms of manipulation, which in turn favor the wealthy and the powerful”.
With the assurance of continuing the discussion, the meeting was terminated with dinner. The next meeting of the RPHR was fixed for 17-20 July 2017.