At this crucial moment in the history of our beloved Sri Lanka, we the members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, guided and inspired by the call of Our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, "to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world" wish to share some thoughts with you our faithful and indeed with all men and women of good will.
Sri Lanka is facing an unprecedented crisis as a result of not only the destructive war raging in the North and East and causing death, misery and economic impoverishment all around but also, and worse still, a moral and religious degradation leading to a sense of helplessness. This situation has weakened significantly all institutions and structures which ought to be in the first place custodians of justice, equality and social peace much needed for the healthy growth of a democracy. The prolonged war and the efforts to curb violence have resulted in severe economic hardships, human rights violations, corruption and a general weakening of democracy.
We also notice a polarization of public opinion into seemingly irreconcilable extremes. The result of this situation has been the growing incapacity of the leadership to rise above party and other considerations and vested interests and to courageously seek a lasting and dignified solution to this crisis. Sadly though, we have to state that very little inspiration and strength is being drawn from our rich, religious traditions and heritage to seek a way out of the impasse.
In this context and in the light of the debate now taking place, the forthcoming general elections will be crucial for Sri Lanka. It would be a great opportunity accorded to all of us to demand for and decide upon clear policies for peace.
More than at any other time, our political leaders have the duty then to spell out clearly their stand on how they hope to achieve pace and prosperity for our country in a concrete and morally correct way.
Therefore, we wish to affirm the following:
- No lasting solution can be reached by war and violence. Immediate steps should be taken towards a cessation of all hostilities between the warring factions and an effective dialogue to solve the festering ethnic problem, which is fundamentally political, should be initiated.
- While we uphold the essential unity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka, we affirm that Sri Lanka is truly a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious country.
- While we acknowledge that Buddhism has a pre-eminent place in Sri Lanka by virtue of its deep association with its history and culture, we also affirm that the rights and privilege of all other religious groups must be guaranteed.
- It is imperative that the fundamental rights and equality of all the citizens of this land, irrespective of their ethnicity, languages or creed be upheld and safe-guarded.
- There must be sufficient devolution of political power to all the regions, while maintaining the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. This will be ensured only if the different regions within the framework of one country are given the opportunity to govern and develop themselves thereby satisfying the legitimate aspirations of all the people.
- In the forthcoming General Elections it will be crucial that the election platform really affirms the fundamental principle of the equality of all citizens. This has to be truly effective at all levels very specially in the recruitment to the public sector, in the fields of administrative service, education, health etc.
- Structure such as the independent Public Service Commission, the Police Commission, the Elections Commission are deemed essential in order to ensure justice and fair-play.
- It is essential that all parties contesting the General Elections and indeed all elections in the country commit themselves to free and fair electioneering in an atmosphere devoid of all violence, intimidation and crime. It is only then that true democracy can prevail.
- The government especially has to ensure that there will be no tempering with the electoral process and that the people are given the opportunity to express their views freely through their vote.
- Any violence, intimidation, lawlessness and election rigging are to be viewed as crimes against the people of this land and their fundamental right to exercise their franchise.
- The media, especially those of the State, must be equally accessible to all political parties and view-point so that the people are given the opportunity to listen to different shades of opinion.
- All election laws must be stringently followed by all parties thus avoiding unnecessary confrontation and violence. It is necessary that all media should act responsibly and not drum up feelings of communalism and hatred.
We call upon all our faithful to always opt for peace and reconciliation because, as Our Lord Jesus has announced, "Blessed are the Peace Makers, for they shall be called the children of God". (Mt. 5:9).