Inter-religious summit calls for power-sharing constitutional framework in Sri Lanka

[TamilNet, Monday, 17 December 2007, 17:06 GMT]
Religious leaders from Sri Lanka and a multi-religious delegation from six countries of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, who met in Jaffna last Wednesday and Thursday, said the decision to make Jaffna the location of the summit was to express solidarity with all those who continue to live in situations of violence and despair due to the conflict. "We saw the massive destruction of infrastructure and housing that occurred in previous phases of fighting, the loss of villages and fertile agricultural lands to High Security Zones, and the fear and insecurity in the lives of the people, especially youth, which is dehumanizing to all those affected."

Senior religious leaders from Sri Lanka and a high-level multi-religious delegation of the World Conference of Religions for Peace from six other countries (Cambodia, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States) met in Jaffna on December 12-13, 2007 for an Inter Religious Summit on Peace in Sri Lanka.

The National Peace Council, a Colombo based peace group said that the religious leaders expressed their support for all initiatives aimed at bringing the ongoing war to an end through an immediate cessation of hostilities, preparing of political proposals by the government in consultation with all parties, including the Tamil political parties, propagating the need for a power-sharing constitutional framework in which people enjoy the political right to develop their communities, opening of all roads, including the A9 highway to Jaffna, and resettling of all displaced persons, including the Muslim community of the north, with their consent, and improving internal trade and marketing between the north east and south, which will build goodwill between communities and reduce economic pressures.

In addition, they called for an immediate end to the use of claymore mines, artillery firing and bombings that have targeted civilians, forced conscription of children and adults into armed groups, abductions, disappearances, extortions and extra-judicial killings of civilians, harassment of Tamil people through draconian provisions of the law that permit arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention and forced resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in locations not of their choice.

Full text of the declaration containing these recommendations agreed to by the religious leaders was released by the National Peace Council to media after the religious leaders met with the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and political leaders belonging to the government and opposition in the South:

Jaffna Declaration of Religious Leaders
Jaffna, Sri Lanka, December 13, 2007

Statement Issued at Conclusion of the International Summit of Religious Leaders on Peace in Sri Lanka

Religious leaders from Sri Lanka and six other countries (Cambodia, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States) met in Jaffna for an Inter Religious Summit on Peace in Sri Lanka on December 12-13, 2007. The meeting was organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace in partnership with the National Conference of Religions for Peace and the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

The Religions for Peace network, which is active in over 70 countries and five major geographical regions, includes a World Council of senior religious leaders from all parts of the world who work to counter violence through multi-religious cooperation.

We were encouraged by the presence in Jaffna of Mr Yasushi Akashi, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan, who addressed the meeting and referred to the irreplaceable value of the religious leadership in peace making.

The decision to make Jaffna the location of the Summit was to express solidarity with all those who continue to live in situations of violence and despair due to the ongoing conflict. The venue of the meeting was the Jaffna Public Library, which was burned down in 1981 in the course of the conflict and rebuilt nearly two decades later to be a testament to a new era of peace and national reconciliation, which is still to dawn.

The ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka continues to lead to destruction and suffering on a large scale that cannot be confined to any one part of the country or to any one ethnic or religious community. Members of the religious clergy too, have paid with their lives, for being close to their people and heeding their call for peace and justice. All of Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans have paid a very high price in terms of lives lost, economic opportunities foregone and in the weakening of the moral fabric of society.

During the period of the Summit we experienced first hand the difficulties of travel to and from Jaffna. We saw the massive destruction of infrastructure and housing that occurred in previous phases of fighting, the loss of villages and fertile agricultural lands to High Security Zones, and the fear and insecurity in the lives of the people, especially youth, which is dehumanizing to all those affected. The sound of artillery firing, testimonials of daily killings and disappearances, the very large military presence in the city and the nighttime curfew provides added motivation to our work for peace in Sri Lanka.

As religious leaders with extensive experience in peace making in other parts of the world, we urge a renewed search for a non-violent solution to the ongoing conflict. We do not accept that there can be victory through a military solution or that war can bring peace. On the contrary, as religious leaders, we believe that violence begets violence and hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love.

As an outcome of our experiences in Jaffna and our deliberations at the Summit we are committed to focusing our peace building efforts in the following areas:

  1. Civilian Protection

    We call for an immediate end to the

    1. use of claymore mines, artillery firing and bombings that have targeted civilians
    2. forced conscription of children an adults into armed groups
    3. abductions, disappearances, extortions and extra-judicial killings of civilians
    4. harassment of Tamil people through draconian provisions of the law that permit arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention
    5. forced resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in locations not of their choice


  2. Peace Promotion

    We will support all initiatives aimed at bringing the ongoing war to an end through

    1. an immediate cessation of hostilities
    2. preparing of political proposals by the government in consultation with all parties, including the Tamil political parties
    3. propagating the need for a power-sharing constitutional framework in which people enjoy the political right to develop their communities
    4. opening of all roads, including the A9 highway to Jaffna, and resettling of all displaced persons, including the Muslim community of the north, with their consent
    5. improving internal trade and marketing between the north east and south, which will build goodwill between communities and reduce economic pressures


  3. International Community

    We urge positive action on the part of the international community by the

    1. reactivation of the donor co-chairs, and the enhancement of Japan and Norway's facilitative roles, to re-open the path for fresh negotiations between the government and LTTE
    2. provision of increased development assistance to reconstruct the war-torn areas, empower local community groups, rebuild the livelihoods of war-affected people and strengthen the national economy


  4. Religious Community

    We, as religious leaders, pledge to

    1. ground ourselves and concientise our communities on the basis of the values of peace, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and repentance
    2. engage in an awareness creating, observation and monitoring role as a support group in a renewed peace process
    3. take inspiration from the declaration of the Mahanayakes of the Buddhist Sangha in Tokyo in June 2002 to support the peace process and to build a united Sri Lanka for all communities
    4. welcome international religious leaders, especially from countries with a Buddhist tradition, to join hands with religious leaders in Sri Lanka in working for peace
    5. request the World Conference of Religions for Peace to facilitate a process by which religious leaders directly meet and lobby with the parties to the conflict.


    Despite nearly three decades of loss of innocent lives, agonizing suffering and dehumanizing of society, each of our religions call us in hope to believe that peace is possible. We commit ourselves to work together in hope for healing, justice and peace.


Formal Presenters at the Summit

International Religious Leaders
  • His Holiness Tep Vong, Great Supreme Patriarch, Cambodia
  • Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary General, Religions for Peace International, United States
  • H.E. Mr. Yasushi Akashi, Special Representative, Government of Japan
  • Ms. Ela Gandhi, Founder, Gandhi Development Trust, South Africa
  • Dr. Mir Nawaz Khan Marwat, Moderator, Asian Conference of Religions for Peace, Pakistan
  • Rev. Dr. Tomonobu M. Shinozaki, President, Rissho Kosei-kai Gakurin Seminary
  • Rev. Vebjřrn L. Horsfjord, General Secretary, European Council of Religious Leaders, Norway
  • Mr. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General Religions for Peace International, Japan
  • Ven. Yon Seng Yeath, Assistant to His Holiness Tep Vong, Cambodia


Sri Lankan Religious Leaders
  • Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammawasa Thero, Secretary General, Amarapura Maha Nikaya
  • Ven. Baddegama Samitha, Chief Incumbent, Sripatha Chaityaramaya, Baddegama and former Member of Parliament
  • Ven. Athkandawaka Saddhajeewa Thero, Deputy Secretary, Sasanarakhsana Mandalaya
  • Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy & President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka
  • Most Rev. Dr Thomas Savundaranayagam, Bishop of Jaffna
  • Most Rev. Dr Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar
  • Rt. Revd. Kumara Illangasinghe, Bishop of Kurunegala
  • Sri Ganasambantha Paramacharya Swami Somasundara, Chief Incumbent, Adheenam, Nallur
  • Kurukal Karthikeja Santhirasegara Sarma, International Secretary, Hindu Priest. Organization, Jaffna
  • Ramachandra Iyer Vivapandian, President, Hindu Religious Leaders Federation
  • Mrs. Sivanandani Duraiswamy, President, Saiva Mangaiyar Kalagam
  • Al Haj Mahumood Alim Abdullah, President, Muslim Theologians Association
  • Shaul Hameed Adam Bawa, President, Jameyyathul Ulama, Ampara and Eastern Province


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