British Asian Christian Association (BACA) coordinated a meeting between Tamil Christian leaders and the Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka Mr Sugeeshwara Gunaratna on 8th May 2019. This followed on from an earlier memorial event at the Wilson Room, House of Commons on 29th April, organised by the All Parliamentary Party Group for Tamils at which Hannah Chowdhry a BACA volunteer shared a message of solidarity and presented flowers in remembrance of those who had lost their lives in the brutal Easter day attacks. It was noticeable that the High Commission were absent at the memorial due to having no available representative and this had caused community concern.
Faith leaders of Sri Lankan origin from all major Sri Lankan faiths received flowers of condolence and solidarity from the British Asian Christian Association.
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The meeting began with an opening statement from Pastor Ebeneezer founder of the Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in East London. That the only way to prevent a similar attack in the future is ‘if there is the will and determination to nip in the bud signs of extremism and violence.’
He said: “The government needs to take the initiative in greater vigilance and combating signs of radicalisation and secrecy.
“The people of Sri Lanka need to be more forthcoming in their communication with relevant authorities of things they see that cause them concern and… should be taught to be tolerant of all faiths.”
“These would entail educating the people starting at a young age; places of worship preaching tolerance; and openness of religious leaders about what happens in their places of worship.”
He warned that ‘if action is not taken to stop extremism, the scenario can easily be repeated and many more innocent people of all faiths will perish.’
He finished with a prayer ‘God grant the leaders of Sri Lanka the wisdom they need at this critical and dangerous times of the disintegration of society
and dreadful disasters looming ahead.’
Mr Gunaratna informed the assembled leaders that every effort was being made to root out extremists and to help in doing so that the Sri Lankan Government was cooperating with international security agencies. He explained how he had personally been impacted on by the recent attacks as part of his family was Catholic and were caught up in the explosions in Colombo at St Anthony’s Shrine. He expressed the desire of the Government of Sri Lanka to restore the peace and harmony that had made the nation one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Wilson Chowdhry, President of the British Pakistani Christian Association, sought clarification on whether Mr Gunaratna felt any prejudice was involved in the missed warnings from international security agencies of the impending attacks. Mr Chowdhry has visited Sri Lanka on two occasions and explained that morning services in Catholic churches are held by Tamil Catholics whereas Sinhalese Catholics operate services in the afternoon. Moreover the Batticaloa Church was a known Tamil Pentecostal church so ignoring the intelligence submitted from abroad may have been an intentional oversight.
Mr Gunaratna did not feel ethnic tensions were a factor and asserted that the failure to respond to the intelligence provided was a direct result of ten years of peace and rejuvenation of the Sri Lankan nation after a bitter Civil War. The Islamist threat had not previously manifested itself in any sizeable way in Sri Lanka and the nations security forces were caught off-guard a ‘mistake that would not be repeated.’
At the end of the meeting Mr Chowdhry requested an opportunity to meet again in six months to hear from the High Commission how their efforts were taking effect in Sri Lanka and what impact it was having. He expressed a need to keep the Tamil Christian stakeholders involved in the Government’s planned response to restore their confidence and to make valuable intelligence available to them. Mr Gunaratna agreed to meet again and update the community.
Tamil Christian leaders and Wilson Chowdhry meet at a hotel to discuss recommendations for Sri Lankan Government
A table of recommendations agreed by a meeting of leaders at on Saturday 27th April which can be viewed at the end of this post was also submitted.
Wilson Chowdhry, President of the British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Sri Lanka’s government must work with all its stakeholders to ensure the restoration of social harmony in a nation that has had 10 years of overwhelming peace since one of the most bitter of civil wars.
“The impact of the many explosions was far reaching and the demoralisation within the nation is palpable.
“I am personally concerned that potential prejudices towards the Tamil population may have resulted in the very clear intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack being ignored – I implore Sri Lankan authorities to review this concern as part of their investigations into failure to thwart the attacks.
“Any staff assumed to be negligent should be removed and a thorough analysis of their political backgrounds assessed for exhibited xenophobic or anti-Christian sentiment.
“The attackers sought to create schism and angst but Sri Lanka must respond with tangible signs of solidarity the evil intent of Islamists must be proven to be futile.”
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Below are the recommendations submitted to the Sri Lankan High Commission.
The Forum calls upon the Government:
i. to ban extreme ethno-nationalist organisation like the NTJ, Bodu Bala Sena, Siva Sena, etc.
ii. to take stern action against media that advocate extreme ethno-nationalism.
iii. to create a watchdog mechanism along the line of ‘Tell MAMMA’ of the UK to monitor extreme ethno-nationalist elements including media;
iv. to end impunity for violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals and groups involving extreme ethno-nationalism and ethnic discrimination;
v. to ensure that no community is allowed to insist on the primacy of its religion, race or culture at the expense of racial harmony. We note that Sri Lanka has no specific legislation to achieve this purpose;
vi. to incorporate and implement International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as victim-centred legislation; to enact laws banning hate-speeches and hard-line religious organisations and other relevant laws to bring to book and levy damage-costs from perpetrators, instigators and sponsors;
vii. to enact legislation, similar to that of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act of Singapore, to maintain and promote religious harmony in Sri Lanka;
viii. to publicise the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action in Sinhala and Tamil as a component of activities towards the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;
ix. to Implement the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD);
x. to establish a Minority Commission to effectively investigate and take action on the intolerance of and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities through minority rights education and specifically designed awareness-raising campaigns;
xi. to revise school textbooks and curriculum to eliminate elements that may promote racism and racial discrimination or reinforce negative stereotypes of minorities; and
xii. to introduce teaching comparative religious education in the national curriculum for schools.
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While the delegation were in the meeting with Deputy High Commissioner many others prayed for a listening ear.