FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2015 | USCIRF
Statement of Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz upon completing a visit to Sri Lanka, March 15-17, 2015
I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka with USCIRF Senior Policy Analyst Sahar Chaudhry to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance since the country’s 2015 election.
During our three day visit, we had the opportunity to meet with Minister of Foreign Affaris, Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities, among others.
We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met. In particular, we welcome comments in support of national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government's engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups.
We welcome other measures by the government, in the areas of freedom of expression and association in particular, which tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.
We are very pleased to hear that reports of abuses perpetrated against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months. We encourage the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities.
While welcoming recent government measures, representatives of civil society with whom we met expressed continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction. This includes the ability to build houses of worship and to be free of any acts of intimidation or harassment.
We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come. Nonetheless, we leave Sri Lanka with a sense of great encouragement, and we look forward to further progress on these critically important issues.
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