US notes harassment of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka

US notes harassment of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka

The United States, in its annual report on religious freedom, noted the harassment of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka in 2022.

The annual report on International Religious Freedom noted that the US Embassy in Colombo had emphasized the need for respect for and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities as part of the postconflict reconciliation process during meetings with the President, Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, and other officials involved with religious affairs.

“Embassy and visiting Department of State officials met with Government officials to express concern about government harassment of, and discrimination against, members of religious minority groups and to urge the government to ensure due process for those in prolonged detention, in particular those detained under the PTA,” the report said.

The US Ambassador in Colombo had also promoted religious freedom through private diplomatic advocacy and in public statements and speeches.

On 14 September 2922, the Ambassador visited the Colombo Dewatagama Mosque, the main mosque of the minority Sufi community Sri Lanka. The Sufis reported increased marginalization due to the spread of more conservative Islam. In her remarks, the Ambassador highlighted the contributions of the Sufi community in Sri Lanka and the United States and emphasized the need for religious freedom for all communities in the country. On September 21, the Ambassador met with a group of youth ambassadors from different religions working on an interfaith dialogue initiative and posted on social media that “tolerance and respect are essential for [a] peaceful and democratic society.”

Embassy and visiting senior Department of State officials met with Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu civil society and religious leaders across the country to better understand the views of the communities they represent and the problems they faced. In April, after a trip to the North and meetings with religious leaders from different faiths, the Ambassador emphasized the value of religious pluralism in a press release. In November, during a trip to the Eastern Province, the Ambassador met with a bishop to discuss ways to strengthen interfaith relations. She also visited a Hindu kovil and posted on social media about the country’s religious diversity.

Throughout the year (2022), the Ambassador or the Chargé d’Affaires offered public greetings, including on social media, and participated in person or virtually in celebrations of the country’s many religious holidays and other occasions. For example, the Ambassador publicly observed religious holidays such as Maha Shivarathri in March, Ramadan in April, Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April, Eid al-Fitr in May, Vesak in May, Eid al-Adha in July, International Day of Peace in September, and Deepavali in October. She visited sites with religious significance and posted on social media her appreciation for the country’s cultural and religious diversity. On International Religious Freedom Day in October, the Ambassador reflected on the country’s religious diversity and the value of interfaith partnerships on social media.

The embassy supported multiple reconciliation projects that identified and resolved local grievances, built empathy and understanding among religious groups, and supported government reconciliation efforts.

The embassy led ongoing tolerance and unity programs in cultural centers promoting freedom of religion, as well as peaceful dispute resolution, among Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim youth. Embassy representatives supported the work of civil society organizations in strengthening the capacity of religious and community leaders by fostering peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees.

Through community-based civil society organizations and the National Peace Council, the U.S. government funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building. (Colombo Gazette)

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