October 2, 2013: Promoting greater respect for freedom of religion and belief in Sri Lanka

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Coming out of a 30 year civil war, Sri Lanka’s fragile peace is being threatened by religious tensions between the different religious denominations. While the issue of religious freedom is both highly political and very contentious, there can be no social harmony without greater respect for freedom of religion and belief. The majority (70%) of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist. Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution entrenches Buddhism as the foremost religion in Sri Lanka and stipulates that the State has a duty to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana while assuring the rights and freedoms of other religions guaranteed by the Constitution. The minority religions are Hindu (13%), Islam (10%) and Christianity (7%).  It is the Islamic and Christian faiths and their propagation in the country that have been perceived as a threat by the majority community. Since the end of the war there has been a resurgence of nationalism which appears to have led to attempts to marginalize and discredit minority religious practices and institutions. Tensions are mounting between communities along religious lines as infringements of religious freedoms increase. In response to the situation, Equitas has developed a new project proposal in partnership with the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo and members of Equitas’ alumni network in Sri Lanka. Through research, dialogue, human rights education training and community actions, the project will establish better understanding between religious groups, community members and the public at large.  Capacity will be built to monitor and document violations of freedom of religion and belief, with an aim to fostering better understanding amongst communities in order to react constructively and ensure that the current sense of impunity is lifted.   Ultimately, the project aims to promote social harmony and prevent a new conflict based on religious identities.

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