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Wednesday, 06 January 2021 15:22

Promoting the Rule of Law and Religious Freedom

Forty civil society representatives from Local Inter Religious Committees (LIRCS) in Weligama, Beruwala, Negombo, Akurana, Mannar, Rakwana, Kuliyapitiya, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Panduwasnuwara and Addalaichchenai participated in an online training programme on religious freedom and rule of law under NPC’s project Collective Engagement for Religious Freedom (CERF) facilitated by lawyer Jagath Liyana Arachchi.

Areas related to rule of law and religious freedom were discussed to help participants understand the rule of law and domestic and international legal provisions pertaining to religious freedom to help them conduct community level interventions and activities more effectively.

A case study analysis was conducted where the participants had to determine whether a given scenario was a violation of religious freedom and if so what the remedies were. For example, if a woman wore a shirt depicting a religious leader’s image, was that a violation of religious freedom?

Participants raised questions on the appointment of judges, cremation of Muslims, mediation boards and international justice mechanisms.

A participant from Negombo pointed out that there were enough laws but they were not implemented and asked what could be done to remedy the situation. Mr. Liyana Arachchi replied that the rule of law was affected by many factors that were not directly linked to the justice system. “As responsible citizens, we are tasked to voice our concerns about the decisions made by the government,” he said.

The training programme is the continuation of the one held in November.

Also under the CERF project, a programme was held for Vavuniya LIRC members including religious leaders, government officers, civil society members and other social activists.

The Public Health Inspector of Vavuniya spoke on Covid-19 and how LIRC members could contribute to combat it.

At the next session, the results of the survey on religious freedom conducted by CERF project were discussed so that they could be taken into the account when planning activities in the division.

Asked about the state of religious freedom in Vavuniya, a participants said, “On the surface it seems there are no issues in terms of religious freedom but there are many examples to prove that the religious freedom of minority communities such as Hindus, Muslims and Christians have been violated.”

It was recognised that caste played a negative role in Hindu and Catholic communities to hinder certain groups from enjoying their religious freedom such as not being allowed to enter religious places of worship.

There was a discussion on conversion to another religion. Participants mentioned that the Hindu community was more vulnerable and some had converted to Islam and Christianity. Hindu religious leaders said that they had no objection to conversion if it was done with proper understanding and knowledge but since conversions mostly took place because of poverty and vulnerability, they believed that it was a violation of their religious rights.