MANNAR – A northern Sri Lanka bishop has expressed concern over restrictions on freedom of religion, expression, association and movement in the wake of the nation’s long civil war.
“People, community leaders and religious leaders should be free to organise peaceful events and meetings without restrictions,” Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar told the government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
“On several occasions, the military cancelled religious services for killed or missing civilians. Priests have been threatened for their attempts to commemorate those who were killed,” he said.
In his Jan 8 and 9 testimony on behalf of the diocese, Bishop Joseph proposed that the government should declare a day of mourning to remember civilians killed during the war.
“Visitors from outside the district and from overseas should be allowed to freely visit recently resettled areas without having to obtain prior permission,” Bishop Joseph said.
He added that a centralised, comprehensive list of detainees should be made public.
“Unhindered access to detainees should also be allowed for families, religious leaders, lawyers, LLRC and other statutory bodies and individuals,” Bishop Joseph told the commission.
“Existing mechanisms have been unable to assist the families of the disappeared people. We are particularly worried that there is no news about two Tamil priests from the North who disappeared in this period,” he noted.
“The erection of Buddhist statues in prominent public places in many new locations in the north have also made our people fearful of Buddhist domination in majority Hindu, Christian and Islamic areas,” he warned.
“[This] will not help in reconciliation efforts and may lead to further tensions and polarisation amongst different religious communities,” Bishop Joseph said.
“In order to achieve genuine and lasting reconciliation, we believe it is crucial to address roots of the conflict and war, primarily issues affecting Tamils such as recognition of their political reality, language, land, education and political power sharing,” he concluded.