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Attacks on Religious Leaders and Places of Worship in the Spotlight in the Human Rights Council

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A joint statement was delivered on behalf of FORUM-ASIA and a number of other NGOs last week in the Human Rights Council, dealing with attacks on religious leaders and places of worship in Sri Lanka. FORUM-ASIA was also involved in convening a parallel event at the Council the same day, focusing on such attacks in Sri Lanka, Tibet and the Philippines.
FORUM-ASIA is deeply concerned by reports of killings and enforced disappearances of religious leaders and attacks on places of religious worship in Sri Lanka. Last Thursday, FORUM-ASIA and a number of international and regional NGOs1 delivered a statement on the issue at the sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council, during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Ms Asma Jahangir. The following examples were cited to indicate the seriousness of the issue.

  • A grenade attack on the Grand Mosque in Akkairapattu, Ampara district in eastern Sri Lanka 18 November 2005, during which five civilians were killed, and 29 were seriously wounded.
  • An attack on the Catholic church at Pesalai, Mannar District, northern Sri Lanka, on 17 June 2006, where 6,000 civilians were seeking shelter. One person was killed and 47 were injured.
  • The shelling of the Catholic church in Allaipiddy, Jaffna District, northern Sri Lanka, during which more than 20 people were killed, and around 75 were injured.
  • The disappearance of Catholic Priest Fr Nihal Jim Brown, who had been providing assistance to civilians the day after the shelling of Allaipiddy Church. He was last seen on 20 August 2006.
  • The shooting dead by unidentified gunman of Ven. Handungamuwe Nandarathna Thero, a Buddhist monk, in Morawewa, Trincomalee District in eastern Sri Lanka on 13 May 2007.
  • The shooting dead of Rev Selliah Parameshwaram, a Hindu Kurukkal, in Sandivelli, Batticaloa District in eastern Sri Lanka on 7 February 2007.
  • Recent activities of the LTTE, including forcible recruitment, in and around Madhu Church in the District of Mannar, traditionally a “conflict-free zone” and a safe haven for IDPs.

Later the same day, Ms Jahangir was the keynote speaker at a parallel event on “Armned Conflict in Asia: Attacks on Religious Leaders and Places of Worship.” The event was run jointly by FORUM-ASIA, Pax Romana and IMADR. Following up on the statement he delivered during the morning’s plenary session, Mr. Rukshan Fernando again took up the issue of such attacks Sri Lanka. Ms. Marie Hilao-Enrique spoke about the Philippines, while Mr. Ngawang-Drakmargyapon provided information on Tibet.

1 The oral statement was delivered by Mr. Rukshan Fernando, on behalf of Pax Romana – ICMICA/MIIC, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, FORUM-ASIA and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), in cooperation with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, INFORM, the Law & Society Trust (LST) and Rights Now. It was based on a written statement submitted by ALRC, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and IMADR. The following Sri Lankan groups also supported the statement: Association of War Affected Women, Kandy, Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Colombo, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Colombo, Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR), Jaffna, Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation (Cpbr), Colombo, Centre for Society and Religion (CSR), Colombo, Christian Alliance for Social Action (CASA), Colombo, Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development and Human Rights Secretariat – SETIK-Caritas Kandy, Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), Equal Ground Sri Lanka, Colombo, Human Rights Media Resource Centre, Kandy, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Colombo, Janasansadaya, Panadura, Law & Society Trust (LST), Colombo, Muslim Information Centre – Sri Lanka (MIC), Colombo, Rights Now Collective for Democracy, Colombo, Welcome House, Colombo.