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Statement: Religious Leaders On Peace In S. Lanka


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

i) use of claymore mines, artillery firing and bombings that have targeted civilians

ii) forced conscription of children an adults into armed groups

iii) abductions, disappearances, extortions and extra-judicial killings of civilians

iv) harassment of Tamil people through draconian provisions of the law that permit arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention

v) 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

i) an immediate cessation of hostilities

ii) preparing of political proposals by the government in consultation with all parties, including the Tamil political parties

iii) propagating the need for a power-sharing constitutional framework in which people enjoy the political right to develop their communities

iv) 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

v) 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

i) 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

ii) 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

i) ground ourselves and concientise our communities on the basis of the values of peace, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and repentance

ii) engage in an awareness creating, observation and monitoring role as a support group in a renewed peace process

iii) 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

iv) welcome international religious leaders, especially from countries with a Buddhist tradition, to join hands with religious leaders in Sri Lanka in working for peace

v) 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.

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. Vebjørn 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, Kandy

Ven. Baddegama Samitha, 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, Church of Ceylon

Sri Ganasambantha Paramacharya Swami Somasundara, Head of the 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, Vice President, Ulama Association

ENDS

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