While Sri Lanka was facing an unprecedented turmoil with the deepening economic crisis triggers raging street demonstrations, when groups of people, mostly young, stand in clusters chanting slogans, singing songs, making speeches, 27 Religious, Priests and HR Activists came together to Fatima Retreat House, Lewella Kandy from the 07th - 09th July 2022 to analyze and discern their mission. It was organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy with the theme “Protecting the Rights of the Voiceless”.
The July meeting included religious leaders of other mainline churches and prominent Human Rights activists. There was an urgency to meet and discuss about the latest developments in the country with the deepening political & economic crisis. Hence recognizing the role as religious leaders and Human Rights activists was crucial when the youth continued the struggle of the people in the country for a new political culture. Most of the participants were already involved in the struggle for long term reforms both Political & Judicial in response to the crisis.
Suren D. Perera AAL initiating the discussion of the workshop, raised some basic questions regarding the Economic crisis & the youth struggle. He paused 03 main questions:
It was an individual and a group activity for which all the participants actively joined.
The discussion on “Women & Economic crisis” was facilitated by Sarah Arumugam AAL. She briefly explained and questioned the life of women during the crisis and the participation and the leadership of women in the struggle. Further she raised the question regarding the response of the society to women's activism and the barriers to women's political participation in Sri Lanka.
The perspective of the people in the north in relation to the economic crisis and the youth struggle was explained by Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos that was followed by a lively discussion. He reminded that the people in the north & east suffered for more than 25 years without basics such as food, medicine, fuel etc. and therefore he said that the people are quite used to live in a crisis situation and political leaders even if changed would not pay attention to the rights of the people in the north & east. However, he said he supports the youth in Struggle for a “System change”.
The responsibility of the Media was explained by Mr. Sampath Samarakoon the Chief Editor of Vikalpa, enumerating the Ethics and guidelines that has to be followed when reporting in Public Media and also in Social Media. He spelt out the process in identifying fake media, stories that contain elements of truth but are broadly inaccurate. However, he said that the “trusted new sources will correct errors in their stories and be transparent with readers when they’ve got things wrong”. Further he spoke about the Rights of the Digital Media.
Human Rights that are to be safeguarded, especially the Right to Food and Medicine that are not guaranteed in our constitution was explained by Rukshan Fernando. Human Rights & UDHR endorsed by nearly all governments, including the debt collectors. “The UDHR prioritizes access to education and health care. In welfare-states, when a family goes bankrupt no child is expected to lose access to basic education and health care in order for debts to first be repaid; this principle apply for people everywhere”. He further said that the ideas of human rights and basic human needs are closely connected and “Human Rights” - rights that apply to every person because they are human, can be seen as rights to the fulfilment of, or ability to fulfil, basic human needs.
With a biblical background Bishop Kumara brought in hope that has to be shared with the people who have lost hope. “Being hopeful relies partly on having a sense of control - it’s the idea that you can exert an influence on the world around you and that the actions you take can have positive consequences in your life”. He further said “obviously there are some situations that are truly out of your control, taking some control could include elements of your self-care routine that you’re already doing. For instance, many people find that simple, small acts of compassion that help build that sense of control even in a chaotic situation"
Since many of the participants were to join the protest on the 09th July, the meeting was concluded on the 08th with a thanksgiving service for Jeyabalan who celebrated his Birthday followed by a fellowship meal
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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