SRI LANKA: Killing and Enforced Disappearances of Religious Leaders and Attacks on Places of Religious Worship in Sri Lanka

September 14, 2007

A Joint Statement submitted by Rukshan Fernando on behalf of Pax Romana-ICMICA/MIIC, Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), FORUM-ASIA and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), in cooperation with Centre for Policy Alternatives, INFORM, Law & Society Trust (LST) and Rights Now, as part of the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

SRI LANKA: Killing and Enforced Disappearances of Religious Leaders and Attacks on Places of Religious Worship in Sri Lanka

We would like to bring to the notice of the Council the trend of attacks on religious leaders and places of worship in Sri Lanka, due to their involvement in protecting and assisting victims of ongoing hostilities between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE). This violence is part of a wider humanitarian and human rights crisis in Sri Lanka and shows the increasing disregard of the main armed actors towards international humanitarian law.

Recent attacks on places of religious worship:

  • On 18 November 2005, a grenade attack on the Grand Mosque in Akkairapattu, Ampara district in eastern Sri Lanka killed five civilians and seriously wounded 29
  • On 17 June 2006, an attack on the Catholic church at Pesalai, Mannar district, northern Sri Lanka, where 6,000 civilians had sought shelter, killed one person and injured 47
  • On 13 August 2006, the Catholic church in Allaipiddy, Jaffna district, northern Sri Lanka, was shelled while civilians sheltered inside. More than 20 people were killed, and around 75 were injured.

Recent attacks on religious leaders:

  • Catholic priest Rev Fr Nihal Jim Brown, who was helping civilians the day after Allaipiddy Catholic church was shelled, disappeared. He was last seen on 20 August 2006, in an area under the strict control of the Navy. He had earlier been threatened by the Navy
  • Ven. Handungamuwe Nandarathna Thero, a Buddhist monk, Morawewa, Trincomalee district, eastern Sri Lanka, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on 13 May 2007. He had taken a strong anti-war stance, preached in Tamil and had ordained a Tamil as a monk
  • Rev. Selliah Parameshwaram, Hindu Kurukkal, Sandivelli, Batticaloa district, eastern Sri Lanka, was shot and killed on 7 February 2007

Madhu Church has traditionally been a “conflict free zone” where IDPs could be safe from armed actors, including forcible recruitment by the LTTE. In mid-March 2007, there were over 8,000 IDPs in and around Madhu Church. However LTTE tactics such as bringing trucks to the church and forcing IDPs onto them, cutting off supplies, and threats that IDPs who did not leave would be treated as traitors, led to the departure of most IDPs by the end of March, despite heavy ongoing fighting in the area.

There has been no reported progress in investigation of or prosecution against the perpetrators in any of the incidents listed above.

We would like to ask the Special Rapporteur what actions she recommends to the Sri Lankan government, other armed actors, the Human Rights Council and the international community, to ensure the safety of religious leaders and places of religious worship, so that they may continue to offer protection and assistance to civilians affected by violence.

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About ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at local and national levels throughout Asia.


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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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