Cablegate: Legislative Limbo?: Anti-Conversion Bill Sent To

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


C. 04 COLOMBO 1379

1. (SBU) Summary: The private member's bill presented by
the Buddhist nationalist Jathika Hela Urumayu (JHU) to
prohibit "unethical" conversion was read out in Parliament
for the second time on May 6. The Speaker referred the bill
to an as-yet unconstituted Standing Committee for further
review; the Committee will have six months from the date of
its appointment in which to complete its review. Although
the JHU is optimistic that the bill will pass by mid-June, we
believe the Speaker's move could be a delaying tactic
intended to keep the bill from ever seeing the legislative
light of day. End summary.

2. (U) The private member's bill presented by the Buddhist
nationalist Jathika Hela Urumayu (JHU) to ban so-called
"unethical" conversions was read out in Parliament for the
second time on May 6. Speaker W.J.M.Lokubandara, a member of
the opposition United National Party (UNP), referred the bill
to an as-yet unconstituted Standing Committee, to be composed
of 35 government and opposition MPs, to modify the bill in
accord with Supreme Court findings that key parts of the
proposed legislation were unconstitutional (Ref C). The
Committee will have six months from the date of its
still-pending constitution to consider proposals for
amendments to the bill, including from members of the public,
before presenting its final recommendation. Any changes
proposed to the bill by the Committee in addition to those
recommended by the Supreme Court can then either be accepted
or rejected by the JHU before the bill is brought for a third
reading and final vote. If the bill is not amended in accord
with Supreme Court recommendations, it will require a
two-thirds majority for passage.

3. (SBU) The JHU seems confident that the Standing
Committee will move expeditiously and the bill will
pass--with one optimistic MP suggesting June 21, the day Sri
Lankan Buddhists celebrate the conversion of the island's
inhabitants to the majority religion almost 3,000 years ago,
as a possible date. Another JHU MP, Ven. Athureliye Ratana
Thero, told us on May 9 that he does not expect the
Government to introduce its own draft legislation, leaving
the way clear for the JHU bill to go forward. (Note: His
assessment that the government will not proceed at this time
with its bill tracks with our understanding as well. The
Secretary of the Buddha Sasana Ministry told POL FSN in late

April that the Minister had instructed him to withhold
gazetting the Government bill, citing U.S. opposition. End

4. (U) Catholic, evangelical and mainstream Protestant
leaders staged a protest rally against proposed
anti-conversion legislation in the predominantly Christian
area of Chilaw in northwestern Sri Lanka on May 7. The
two-hour rally was peaceful, according to the Senior
Superintendent of Police for the area, but few national-level
or local politicians attended, other than Minister of
Christian Affairs Milroy Fernando, who hails from Chilaw.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka
estimated the crowd at 2,500.

5. (SBU) It has been ten months since the JHU presented its
controversial bill for a first reading, and nine months since
the Supreme Court found essential parts of it
unconstitutional. Depending on how quickly the Speaker
appoints members to the Standing Committee--and how quickly
the Committee decides on revisions to the bill--it could be
many months more before the JHU's proposed legislation has
its third reading. We think this extended time frame would
suit most members of the two largest parties, from whom there
seems to be little enthusiasm for the bill, just fine. With
the exception of the JHU, most MPs we talk to acknowledge
that passage--and even discussion--of such a bill would be
inimical to religious tolerance and could incite greater
communal discord. In his April 20 discussion with Assistant
Secretary for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca, Opposition

Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said that his United National
Party is opposed to the legislation and had tried to stop the
JHU bill in committee (Ref B). The Speaker's foot-dragging
in appointing MPs to the Standing Committee may be intended
to do just that by drawing out the proceedings for as long as
possible. We are pleased by the Government's apparent
decision to hold off on pushing its own version of
anti-conversion legislation forward, and will continue to
press our view that any such legislation could undermine
religious freedom in Sri Lanka.

© Scoop Media

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