CSW spoke to a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka whose identity for security reasons has been withheld. This post has been edited for clarity.
Q: Would you be able to share with us what groups like yours – and other civil society organisations based in Sri Lanka – are doing at the moment to address freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) violations?
A: There are various strategies. One of the core things that we do is to document incidents. We do a lot of advocacy at a local level by meeting government officials and ministers. We also lobby with some of our international partners as well. We file cases on behalf of victims who are religious minorities, and we take up different legal interventions. For example, when there is an attack, we will not file a case immediately but we try first to send out legal letters; working with the national police commission, working with the relevant ministries, and so on. If that does not work out, then of course we will file a case against the authorities in the Supreme Court.
In most instances, we support cases that have been filed against Christians. We also do a lot of other projects where we work on broader human rights issues and we form local networks with community leaders, with pastors. We have consultation processes with them, we train them, we have advocacy seminars – making them aware of their legal rights and teaching them good practices. We also work with the media and journalists, bringing together journalists and the media on good reporting for religious violence.
Q: What can international organisations do to echo the concerns you’ve identified?
On World Refugee Day, CSW explores one of the major root causes of the refugee crisis.
The current refugee crisis has become a major news story with much of the focus placed on asking, “Where will they go?”
A seeming backlash against the unprecedented influx into Europe in particular has led some to respond: “Anywhere but here”, and has unleashed what UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has termed “widespread anti-migrant rhetoric”, which in turn has fostered “a climate of divisiveness, xenophobia and even… vigilante violence.”
Yet very few people have asked, “What caused them to flee in the first place, and how can we best address this?”
One key reason is the increase in violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) around the world. *Persecution and violence targeting religious communities is resulting in exceptionally high levels of population displacement, contributing to the worldwide refugee crisis.
“Persecution and violence targeting religious communities is resulting in exceptionally high levels of population displacement, contributing to the worldwide refugee crisis.”
These violations often take place in societies where other human rights are being abused and in situations generally characterised by an absence of rule of law, corruption, economic disparity and authoritarian rule.
Issues of race, ethnicity, political opinion and gender usually intersect with religious persecution; consequently, religion-based asylum claims often include other grounds as well.
For anyone who has worked on Burma for any length of time, Aung San Suu Kyi’s overwhelming election victory is a cause for hope and celebration. A quarter of a century after winning a mandate in Burma’s last freely contested elections, her party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – has shown that no amount of repression could drive it away. The military-backed government and the current President, former general Thein Sein, appear to have finally heard the voice of the people and pledged to honour the result. It would be very easy to think that our work in Burma was done and that all is well.
The entrenched power of the military
In reality, the military remain extremely powerful and the new government will face many grave challenges. The NLD’s election victory is certainly a step forward but, as Aung San Suu Kyi has said, it is just the beginning.