His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith addressing the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation on 03rd November 2010 at theLakshman Kadiragama Hall, made the following submissions to the Commission.
pic courtesy of: archdioceseofcolombo.com
“First of all, I would like to thank the honourable members of this Commission and the President for according us an opportunity to present submissions before this Commission on the relevant topics that had been suggested to us over the Press and the Media.
Most of these topics were discussed at different meetings of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops’ Conference which we represent as a body here. And so each of the item mentioned in the presentations will be taken up by one of those participating here.
The Catholic Church as part and parcel of the Sri Lankan Nation has to be seriously concerned with the peace and welfare of the country. The problems of the nation have to be noted with the intention of offering solutions according to the vision and direction given by faith.
It is therefore natural that the Church express her standpoint on issues which deeply affect the well being of all citizens irrespective of religion and race.
Further, according to the teachings of the faith, Christians have to abide by fundamental precepts such as:
a) Fidelity to the truth which is a hallmark of all religions
b) Be respectful to the human dignity of every person irrespective of man-made divisions
c) The equality of all human beings
d) Well being and development of all segments of society,
d) Maintenance of the Rule of Law and Good Governance
In applying these basic principles accepted by other religions as well, authorities have to be mindful that this is not just a matter of 'charity' or 'maitriya' but of strict justice.
Though errors have been made in the past by all stakeholders, what is important now is to learn lessons from them, which will imply attitudes of mutual forgiveness that will pave the way for genuine reconciliation.
We believe that the search for a political solution to the ethnic conflict must be intensified. It is only a political solution that will help to eliminate the root causes of violent insurrection, ethnic disharmony and suspicion and mistrust between various communities living in this country. In fact, the roots of the conflict could be traced back to the 1950's, especially the Sinhala Only policy of 1956 which disregarded the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Sri Lankan society and paved the way for Sinhala dominance and the trend towards mono-culturalism. Since independence, the gradual entrenchment of majoritarian democracy, where the language and religion of the majority community have been given priority, has increased ethnic tensions and undermined the concept of a truly multi-ethnic, multi-religious, plural society. The Official Languages Act, the introduction of the first Republican Constitution of 1972 and as well as the Constitution of 1978 where the Sinhala Language and Buddhism were given an exalted place in the constitution, were a landmark in the slide towards divisive tendencies in this country.
The massive colonization schemes undertaken by successive governments after independence, even if they were well-meant, but which did not necessarily respect the pluralities of the ethnic and religious proportions of the Sri Lankan people served rather as irritants than as catalysts for unity, because they were served as an attempt to a gradual breakdown and erosion of the original cultural make-up of these regions. Furthermore, in the 1970's, the Republican Constitution of 1972 as well as the Constitution of the 1978 omitted or overlooked the provision in the Soulbury Constitution (Section 29) which had enshrined safeguards for the minorities. Such irritants must be avoided in the future in all development plans.
Sri Lanka should be a secular democracy in which all ethnic and religious groups , irrespective of their numbers, identify themselves as citizens of one country. Race-based and religion based political structures are best avoided in the search for national integration.
We as Christians submit these specific recommendations to this Commission with the fervent hope that they will be considered seriously in order to heal the wounds of a painful conflict which traumatized our homeland for over thirty years, and to lay the foundation for a solid sense of peace and harmony in the future.
Culture of Peace, Acceptance of Differences and Building Harmon;
Promotion of Tolerance among Individuals and Communities -
As Christians, we are expected to be truthful & honest and always be guided by our conscience. Hence we have a duty to point out the causes that led to the ethnic crisis culminating in a bloody war resulting in disastrous consequences to the living conditions of the ordinary people, particularly in the North-East which should be addressed.
It is necessary to think beyond the 'Black July' of 1983, even beyond 2002, in order to 'learn lessons' from the past and in order to prevent any recurrence of these events in the future. The hearts and minds of the Tamil community were seriously disturbed by certain legislative enactments by the Governments in the post independence era, perhaps to promote their own political agendas, although they might not have been purposely directed against the Tamil community.
The armed struggle of young people and the disastrous consequences it has brought about must serve as a lesson to the youth of this country about the futility of taking up arms. Through a system of value education, through the dissemination of religious precepts found in the four major religions practiced in this country , and through the inculcation of values such as tolerance, respect for other's rights, compassion, non-violent communication and non-violent conflict resolution, politics which does not harbour communal hate and a comprehensive programme of life-skills training for children and youth, any future resurgence of hate, division and terror should be effectively prevented.
Religious Education in this country
Under this category I would like to say with regard to education, it is dangerous to visualize the deprivation of Religious Education in this country. Because religion is what provides necessary moral strength to our people, whatever their religion be, to help them to overcome short-term temptations towards winning over or dominating other cultures and other societies. In that sense it is necessary to ensure that the Religious Education is given due place in this country. And also certain provisions of law, for an example, the latest note that came to my hand is, this Gaming Special Provision Bill, which is due to taken up soon in the Parliament, is something that does not encourage religious background or religious principles in this country.
It is very interesting to note that the Sinhala word, “ Sudu Vidividana Panatha” (Gaming Special Provision Bill ) – for those interested in starting Gaming Centres, to name the places where they could begin such activities. So this legislation which encourages ‘Gaming’ is against all religious principles that we have come know. So unless we encourage religious formation of our people and strengthen the religious background in the schools, in the education system, ensuring that such legislation does not go against the basic values in the religions which become very important in this country, if it is to move forward towards the new era of peace and harmony.
Promoting Trilingual Education -
Since language skills facilitate better communication and create understanding and acceptance of others and their views, Trilingual Education should be introduced in all schools, even from childhood. A good knowledge of the native languages and the link language English will result in better interaction among the communities, make reconciliation easier to achieve, promote national unity and help establish a common Sri Lankan identity for all.
Every attempt must be made to create a sense of belonging to this country among all its citizens irrespective of race, religion or social status. Since this is an important aspect, I would say, it is necessary that we promote Trilingual Education in this country. Trilingual Education will allow children from very young days to get to know each other, to get to understand each other and achieve reconciliation and peace and harmony among themselves. Any attempt to dominate just through one language will not heal this nation. Therefore, it is important that in the educational field, even from childhood, all the children are encouraged to study all three languages. And that anyone entering University is expected to qualify in all three languages before doing so. Now the use and the implementation of the official language Act, becomes difficult, because many people are unable to get across this barrier of knowing Sinhala and Tamil at the same time. There is a serious scarcity of people available for various jobs and professions in the Northern area who are able to master both Sinhala and Tamil languages.
It is necessary in order to meet this necessity and that educational stream allows all three languages to be promoted as being important to studies of the children. Serious recognition must be given that both Sinhala and Tamil, even though they have been declared as national languages under the Constitution, the implementation policy is still far from being realized. There is evidence that many of the existing governments, administrative units, are unable to communicate in different languages with the public. So that when the public present themselves in the government offices, they are unable to communicate their ideas to the officers concerned. Therefore the proper implementation of language policy ensuring that the future generations would know all three languages, become very important. This will help to bring together the country to a proper united and harmonious existence.
[ Chairman – ( cross question ) – “ Your Eminence say that the study of all three languages are important for peace and reconciliation ? ]
Response – Yes, at least, if that can be done, it will help to create a new generation of administrators who will be able to communicate in all three languages with the public. There is evidence that many of the existing Government administrative units are filled with Sinhala speaking officers who are unable to communicate with the public. At the same time, there is a big shortage of Tamil speaking officers in Government Offices.
Hegemonistic tendencies should be curtailed and controlled especially of those who enter politics on race or religion based policies. Let a new Sri Lanka emerge, united but not uniform, disciplined yet resourceful and morally and spiritually upraised.
Allay fears of new settlements in the North & East and Cultural Invasion -
It is observed by many that there are attempts made in the Northern & Eastern areas with new settlements to change the demographic situation of the people. This could be a dangerous trend if it is not addressed, unless the people are allowed to move in and move out in the proper way, without any colonization as such with or without the government approval. Because what can happen is, that there can be a psychosis or fear of a cultural invasion of villages and areas of the country considered to be predominantly of one group or the other. This can cause frictions and unnecessary clashes.
Questions & responses –
Question – Is there a necessity to extend or lift the Emergency Regulations ? Role of the religious leaders in the national development.........
Response by His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith –
Security of the Country -
Honourable Sir, I was listening to your responses with Mr. Shamil Perera, in his presentations. We accept that some safeguard and security for the country is necessary. In the matter of confidence building among the people, opening and helping each other to reach out one another to build goodwill and harmony, requires certain amount of freedom whereby one is not threatened with misunderstanding of the motives for which one is working.
All religious and ethnic communities can contribute to the national life of this country -
The Catholic Church for a long time has been trying its best to bring about some kind of a dialogue between two sides. For number of years, various attempts were made to try to convince both sides to negotiate. But they did not succeed, because basically there was a big misunderstanding between the two groups. And there were other political forces that got involved in this and obscured it at certain points. Therefore the Peace Process did not get off the ground. So, unfortunately this division took place in our country. We are in no way in favour of any arm conflict in this country, I say it very clearly.
Therefore, we are not advocating the position of the LTTE on separating of this country. But we strongly for a united Sri Lanka, yet where all religious and ethnic communities feel confident that they can contribute to the national life of this country and bring the best that is available in them and feel that they are wanted in this country and that they have an identity and a place in this country. It is very important to build up this confidence. It is for that reason that the religious leadership has a role to play and the Catholic Church is very keen on advocating a common activity at the level of the religious leaders in this country to create unity and harmony among our people. Therefore, we not unaware of the need, but we are trying to do our best for the country.
All our attempt and everything which has been said here, never justifying terrorism. Never advocating any particular position with regard to the division of this country, but advocating justice based on religious values in this country. That’s why at the very beginning I said that inculcating religious background to the children and in the schools, mutli-lingual approach in the schools become very important in order to unite this country and ensure that the future progress that is visualized, Sri Lanka can build very strong peace environment and economy in this country. It has the capacity.
We appreciate the policies that are being carried out by the government, but we want the government to ensure that the other aspects are kept in mind always, the religious values of our society, the call for justice and fair play, integration of all communities, respect for all communities, and to wider outlook in this effort, specially avoiding politicization of religious and ethnic differences. If parties are allowed on the basis of religion and on the basis of ethnicity, it again becomes an expression of division in this country. Therefore, we should work towards national harmony and unity at this point. We are very much in favour of that and we would like to get along with the other religious leaders and communities in this country, specially the Buddhist Clergy, because they are the majority in this country and get together with all and work towards peace and harmony and for religious principles in this country.
Regional Religious Communities -
And establishing various regional religious communities, is a very good proposal for our country. There are certain tensions that could happen at regional level due to various local factors, and at that point it is necessary that the religious leaders in that region come together and discuss those matters and seek peace settlement based on religious principles, and not allow extremist elements to take it over. Then it becomes conflict and unnecessarily causes divisions and tensions in this country. Because of the 30 year war, Sri Lanka cannot afford once again to go back to such tensions and a situation. Now we should have long years of peace and progress for all people in this country.