Sri Lanka called to account for rights violations

By February 11, 2014
(Photo courtesy Baptist Press)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Press)

Sri Lanka (MNN) — A recent surge in nationalism in Sri Lanka is causing problems on the diplomatic end of things.

A senior U.S. diplomat noted that democracy is under threat in Sri Lanka, and its rights record has deteriorated in the five years since the end of a bloody ethnic war.

Essentially, when the fighting died down,  the rebuilding never happened the way it was supposed to. Sri Lanka failed to ensure reconciliation, justice, and accountability in the wake of its civil war, and pressure seems to be building for a foreign probe.

The next Session of the UN Human Rights Council is set to begin in March, and it is expected that a Resolution calling for an International Investigation on Sri Lanka will be tabled by the United States.

Although Sri Lanka rejects the allegations over its rights records, attacks on religious minorities have been steadily increasing since the 30-year war ended in 2009.

The Pew Research ranked Sri Lanka among the 20 countries with the highest levels of religious hostilities in 2012. Sri Lanka’s Government Restrictions Index (which “measures government laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices”) increased to 5.9 in December 2012. Social Hostilities Index (which “measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations, or groups in society”) jumped to 7.7 in the same time frame.

Amidst all this is the question of the anti-conversion legislation. When it was first introduced, it created a furor and cries of human rights violations. Then, it disappeared.

Greg Musselman, spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says the law didn’t really go away. “It’s still before the legislature. It hasn’t been defeated, but it hasn’t been passed. There are many that are not in favor of it.”

The trouble is: even though it’s not a law, it’s still causing problems for those who run afoul of its intent. Musselman explains that it has “caused the pastors and Christian leaders to be continually going to court and trying to fight this law.” So for now, the law is pending. Why the delay? “The reason I think for the delay is that they just don’t have the support within their legislature to get this through,” says Musselman.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

(Image courtesy Wikipedia)

Although religious freedom is enshrined in Sri Lanka’s laws, the appearance since July 2012 of nationalistic and religious supremacist groups has increased pressure on all religious minorities. It also marked an increase in violent attacks against Christians and churches, mainly by Buddhist extremist groups, which are widely perceived as being tacitly supported by the government.

In 2013, there were more than 50 attacks on churches, often by mobs of between 40 to 800 people. In at least one case, a pastor and his family had to flee for their lives as they were found on a death list. “Its use really–even in its stage before legislature–is to kind of push the church back, in terms of evangelism, and to scare off people that might be considering coming to Christ,” notes Musselman, and sadly it has been effective.

Traditional mainline churches have declined from 21% of the population in 1722 to 7% in 2010. The causes include nominalism, theological liberalism, insufficient outreach, and lack of indigenous representation. Aggressive Buddhist proselytism and emigration of Tamil Christians steadily whittle away their flocks. Musselman adds, “It just causes issues and discouragement for the church. Then, you’ve got the enemies that are trying to put these laws against the church. We’ve seen the Buddhist extremists attacking churches.”

Persecution comes in waves and is sporadic, but it is intense when it occurs, says Musselman. “The reason for the violence is those more militant people [are] not actually enforcing the law, and they’re doing it in their own way, trying to use violence to intimidate Christians.”

(Photo courtesy Baptist Press)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Press)

Continue to pray that the law won’t be passed, also that the church would be protected, and that they would be reacting according to what the Bible teaches and not using violence to get back at those using violence,” Musselman urges.

The good news:  “We’ve also seen that the persecution and the violence against them has also led to more passionate believers.”

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