Lessons From Black July For Law And Order And Tolerance
This week we remember with deep regret, shame and sadness, the Black July of 1983, now chosen to be forgotten in history. Many factors paved the way for the incidents that took place during the 1983 Black July. We remember the intensifying hate campaigns, the terrorism and the ever increasing tensions between the ethnic groups that preceded black July and the thirty year war this led to. During this long period of hate and war citizens of this country were subject to terror and unimaginable destruction was caused to life and property. It is consequently important that we should be of one mind and collectively learn from the lessons of this evil and traumatic experience so that similar mistakes will not be repeated now or in the future. It is regrettable that in spite of the destructive war, many seem to have failed to learn lessons from this sad period in our history and continue to promote hatred among different ethnic and religious groups.
During the last few months, we have come to learn through the media that certain groups in our country have embarked on another hate campaign that could cause harm to our country. This hate campaign is based on religious grounds. Hate and violence are advocated, suspicion is brewing and citizens of this country are being estranged from one another. A few individuals and groups have taken the law into their own hands, in a manner detrimental to the welfare of this country and its citizens. It is our view that some of the speeches made by certain individuals are not only against the tenets of true religion but also against Article 10 of the Sri Lankan Constitution. This article guarantees the freedom of religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion of choice for every citizen. We firmly believe that no person is above the law.
According to our understanding the threats and attacks that have been launched against places of worship of Muslims and Christians are incompatible with the core teachings of all religions -and are detrimental to the peaceful co-existence among our communities. This hate campaign should stop immediately if we are to move forward as a nation that has overcome selective violence. If not the chances are that we may end up a failed state. All four major religions in our country have spiritual values that promote peaceful co-existence and respect for all. True followers of these religions should be guided by their respective teachings.
The primary responsibility to protect citizens from intimidation, threats and violence lies with the government as we have stated in our earlier statements. If the government continually fails to take adequate steps to protect and safeguard minority groups, then we are compelled to arrive at the conclusion that the government itself encourages religious conflict. The government cannot be blind to the fact that lawlessness, deliberate fostering of ethno-religious tensions and the impunity given to those who indulge in these acts is extremely short sighted and will undermine social trust and harmony as well as the economic wellbeing of the country
We, as members of the Friday Forum, wrote to the President in early March this year urging him to act immediately and decisively to counter the increasing venomous anti- Muslim campaign by a few extremists. To the best of our knowledge, the President has not taken any action in this regard. Threats and attacks directed against Muslims and Christians and other minority groups have now increased. At the UNHRC meetings held in March 2013, the Sri Lankan delegation stated that the Justice Ministry was drafting legislation that would address ethno-religious grievances especially of the minority communities. We are yet to know what these are.
When the Prohibition of Religious Conversions Bill was debated a few years back, the Congress of Religions proposed the setting up of an Inter-Religious Council to resolve tensions between religious groups. We consider that the creation of such an Inter-Religious Council is timely. Aggrieved parties would thus be able to bring their complaints before such a Council for redress.
The Friday Forum urge the President and the government to implement without further delay and with commitment, the recommendations of the LLRC which specifically address issues that characterized three decades of bitter internecine conflict and seek to prevent the re- emergence of civil strife. The recommendations of the LLRC relating to Inter-faith Harmony & Confidence Building are detailed in the annexure.
We appeal to all people to live by the true Dhamma in each of their religions, to the political leadership to uphold the Constitution specially Article 10 and to religious leaders to take a firm public stand on behalf of inter-religious co-existence so that our people may be enriched by the presence of the other.
Jayantha Dhanapala Rev. Jayasiri T. Peiris
On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens
Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Reverend Dr. Jayasiri T. Peiris, Ms. Anne Abayasekara, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Danesh Casie Chetty, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Prashan De Visser, Ms. Damaris Wickremesekera, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Mahen Dayananda, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah Mr. Chandra Jayaratne,
Recommendations of the LLRC relating to Inter-faith Harmony & Confidence Building
“The Government should establish an independent institution to address the grievances of all citizens, in particular the minorities, arising from the abuse of power by public officials and
other individuals involved in the governance of this country;” (8.201)
“Interfaith Reconciliation and Peace Committees may be established at District and Provincial levels to provide grass root level inputs to implement measures aimed at inter-ethnic and inter- religious harmony; (8.204)
“A good faith effort should be launched to develop consensus on devolution to devolve to the periphery, especially at grass roots levels to the maximum possible extent, as well as power sharing at the centre:” (8.225)
“The learning of each other’s languages should be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Every attempt must be made to create a sense of belonging irrespective of race, religion or social status;” ” All relevant curricula should infuse a strong sense of equal national entitlement and belonging to the various communities in Sri Lanka;” (8.254)
-“The Government should encourage mixed schools serving children from different ethnic religious backgrounds;” (8.250)
-The Commission observed that ‘hate speech’ had contributed to major communal disharmony and recommended that deterrent laws must be enacted to deal with inflammatory speech
relating to ethnicity religion and literature. (8.302)
-The Commission strongly feels that the Security Forces and law enforcement agencies must work as agents of change in assisting people to fully harness and enjoy the right to freely
engage in observing their religion and other freedoms such as freedom of association and