Thirty-two priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Lewella Retreat House in Kandy Sri Lanka from the 08th to the 11th July 2013, to reflect on the present day realities, human rights violations in particular from a Christian perspective. The participants were from different dioceses and religious congregations in the country. Bishop Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy also graced the occasion and shared with the group his own concerns in the matter of the Rule of Law in the country. He also took the opportunity to stress on the need to have more and more persons committed to upholding the Rule of Law and the dignity of all persons without any distinction. The participants expressed their appreciated of the stand taken by the Bishops on the matter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The second group visited the tea plantation workers in Mooloya Estate in Hewaheta. The comments made by the participants, revealed the depth of denial of rights to tea plantation workers despite their major contribution to the economy of the country. Though promises have been made by the successive governments to address land, housing, education and health rights, they all remained elusive. It was suggested that the Church commits itself for advocacy work given the fact that tea plantations workers are found in five dioceses in the country. It was also mentioned that the numerous trade unions found in the plantations in addition to rendering lip service to the workers, often obstruct any advocacy work done by outsiders including the churches. In Wattegama Church, the third group met a group of the relatives and parents of the disappeared. They all had horrific stories to narrate. Brief narration of the dreadful knock on the doors, forceful entry, grabbing of the victims followed by abductions while the helpless family members left behind for unending tears and an elusive hope, appeared to have evoked similar sentiments among our own participants from the north and the east.
What however surprised everyone was the vigor with which the lives of these relatives are characterized. They all articulated nicely the courage with which they are facing life now following the sessions of healing and counseling. Besides, the small self-help projects initiated with the intervention of Fr. Nandana and his team has further buttressed that sense of confidence and the need to go on living for themselves and their family members. They were then explained the situation prevailing in the north and east which inhibits any form of sharing, healing or even conducting memorial services to the dead. A need to work together to alleviate each other’s suffering and struggling together for justice appeared to be a feeling common to all.
The last sessions were devoted to discussions on what we all could do both as individuals and a group. The workshop ended with the resolution for a meaningful prayer to be adopted both to seek divine intervention to safeguard the dignity of all persons and to enlighten the people of the pressing justice issues. Dr. Shirley Fernando, Dr. Philip Setunga & Fr. Nandana Manatunga facilitated the workshop while Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, Fr. Ananda Fernando, Fr. Nihal Abeysinghe & Sr. Vijaya Joseph made presentations on issues that were discussed during the plenary.
The workshop came to an end with the dates for the next meeting being fixed for 03rd to 06th February 2014 in Madhu.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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