The Law and Society Trust is committed to promoting human rights through advocacy and legal research. We are greatly disturbed to hear the statements made by His Eminence, The Most Reverend Malcolm Ranjith on Sunday 23 September 2018, dismissing and discrediting “human rights as the latest religion of the West” and cautioning Sri Lankans not to be deceived by these “tricks”.
Indeed, as the Archbishops said, Sri Lanka has had strong religious influences for many centuries on human rights. However, notwithstanding our religiosity, in recent years Sri Lanka has also witnessed bouts of savage violence – where victims’ lives, property and livelihoods were targeted for reasons that they belonged to different religious or ethnic groups. Gratuitous violence against women and children, the aged and vulnerable communities has also risen. Our own newspapers and police reports document this rise.
While many religious leaders in Sri Lanka across the different faiths have stood for inter-religious harmony, and the rights to equality, life, security, dignity, and livelihood of people, (all considered to be human rights), there are other faith leaders who have incited violence, justified violence or simply ignored the reality of violence in Sri Lanka. This studied silence is an act of omission and has serious consequences too.
The point is that Human Rights are not in contradiction to religion but are compatible with religion. Furthermore, to those who elect not to adhere to a religion they provide the same point of reference that religious values are expected to provide. While religious people view the world through the prism of their religious beliefs and non- religious people and even religious people may articulate the direct and fundamental importance of human rights.
Sri Lanka has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and has voluntarily ratified and acceded to the major international Covenants and Conventions that create the body of human rights law. Sri Lanka has done this progressively since 1980. We have an obligation to honour them in letter and in spirit.
While we agree that religion can play an important role in protecting and advancing human rights, religious beliefs have also been manipulated for destructive purposes. The Most Reverend Malcolm Ranjith’s clarification on 25th September 2018 fails to provide unambiguous and unequivocal support for human rights.
Human rights belong to human being. It is an inalienable part of the human condition. The West did not invent “Human Rights” and they are not an entitlement of the West either. We expect our religious and political leaders to internalize this and commit to protecting, defending, advocating for and realizing our human rights.