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Hope in Despair
CEYLON 070408-1
April 8, 2007

An Easter Message to the Nation from the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] This year we celebrate Easter, the festival that commemorates the resurrection and new life in Christ, in circumstances of death and despair.

Desperate Sri Lankans

The East has become a full blown battlefield. The culture of killings, abductions and child conscriptions which have been the order of the day is now more intensified with aerial bombings, multi-barrel shelling and claymore mines.

There is little regard for the presence and protection of civilians. Last week, eight Tamil civilians were killed at Morakottanchenai, allegedly due to GoSL military shelling; this week, seven Sinhala and three Tamil construction workers were killed allegedly by a Tamil group at the Hope Village in Mylambaveli. Most recently an alleged LTTE bomb planted in a bus killed 16 persons; most of whom were civilians, in Ampara. All these killings must be condemned forthwith. The right to life and dignity of all, challenges these indiscriminate and aggressive military and militant strategies.

The East is also one massive Refugee Camp. Over one hundred and fifty thousand fellow Sri Lankans - parents, siblings, infants, pregnant mothers, going about their daily work and with the most modest aspirations have been ruthlessly displaced, many for the second or third time. They have been wrenched from their habitats and dignity and now live sub human lives in crowded camps; dependent on charity and uncertain about tomorrow.

Trapped Sri Lankans

The Peninsula and the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts of the Vanni are cut off from each other and the rest of the country. Travel out of the Peninsula is a complicated procedure requiring two to four weeks of administrative and security negotiations, including being photographed. Travel out of the Vanni for those in the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu is near impossible. A media blackout in the Vanni and Peninsula deprives people of the right to unbiased information. The outside world is closed to them. Their deprivation and fears are hidden from the outside world. While there has been some improvement in supplies, the imposed shortage of essentials continues in these areas. Killings and abductions continue with impunity in the Peninsula and forced conscriptions including that of children, continue with impunity in the Vanni.

The people in these areas are the trapped Sri Lankans within a violent Lanka. They are crushed between the agendas of authoritarian regimes who have access to weapons. They live in fear and frustration. They have lost the right to express opinions, ask questions or protest. They dare not do so. They are a “no people”. They are the forgotten, invisible and dispensable elements of our deeply prejudiced and selfish society. If targeted or under suspicion for whatever reason, they have nowhere to turn; and have no option but to await an inevitable and dreadful extra judicial judgement.

Selfish Sri Lankans

To the collective shame of our political, religious and civil society leadership, we have repeatedly demonstrated that few care for these Sri Lankans. Our rhetoric and silence betray that we are a partisan people, concerned mostly with our own sectarian agendas and simply incapable of crossing barriers for the sake of suffering humanity. We are a people who have lost our conscience and with it the art of living as integrated persons in an integrated nation. The death of conscience embraces us all.

Sri Lanka in crisis

This unabated continuation of violence and human suffering suggests that our National crisis is in fact a crisis of integrity. It did not happen overnight but has developed over the years. We are inheritors of a tragic tradition of populist and insensitive political strategies that intimidate and dehumanise people and communities. There has been no end to the intrigue, manipulation and corruption within the ranks of the powerful. Privilege and authority continue to be brazenly used for personal or sectarian gain and to protect and justify corruption, waste and the violation of the rights and dignity of others. Those with a mandate to unite the people in a healthy and free democratic environment, divide and rule through a counter productive political culture.

What is equally disturbing is that people’s integrity is judged and tarnished by the degree of support or critique of the policies of the powerful. A primitive programme of rewards and punishments is then meted out. The state apparatus and law enforcement authorities appear totally ineffective when this happens. Democratic space to pursue the common good is being contested by irrational and emotional rhetoric. Our chances of achieving integration, harmony and sustainable development for all, appear remote.

New Hope and New Life For Sri Lanka

However relentless our crisis may be, it is not invincible and can and must be transformed. In fact Easter hope arises out of the depths of despair. So, it is precisely in these circumstances of death - physical death and the death of conscience and integrity - that Easter has significance. The risen Christ calls us to rise to a new life of integrity and integration with our neighbour. Full stature as humans is only possible this way. We delude ourselves to imagine that we can ignore our neighbour’s need and preserve life for ourselves. In fact the process of self destruction is already at work each time we allow for the destruction of the other.

In the community goodwill that this great festival generates, the dawning Sinhala and Tamil New Year re-endorses this invitation to us all to rise to a new beginning.

Sri Lankan Initiatives

Transformation for all will ironically begin when we recognise that immediate intervention is necessary to stem the alienation of the Tamil people. An independent Tamil voice and stance; long overdue and so indispensable for just negotiations, should be encouraged. The Nation has a right to hear the experiences of the Tamil people from independent Tamil people, and none other. This will only happen when Tamils feel equal and at ease in this country. For this the killings and abductions and conscriptions must be arrested and security measures implemented with respect and dignity. Long overdue Human Rights violations must be investigated with seriousness. Law and order should be restored everywhere and for all.

Civil Society and especially all Religious Leaders have a responsibility to develop a moral force towards peace. Injustice and discrimination must be highlighted; the afflicted, irrespective of ethnic identity, must be supported with dignity; and those in authority must be challenged and encouraged to act with responsibility. Buddhism, with its immense resources for non violent conflict resolution has a distinct contribution to offer. The other religions should similarly contribute from their respective strengths. I call upon all religious leaders to encourage and implement programmes of meditation, prayer and trust building for peace. Inter religious activity will further strengthen this force.

I finally urge the GoSL and the LTTE to begin immediate and sincere negotiations towards the devolution of power and stabilisation of peace. Lessons must be learnt from past mistakes. Prevailing security measures and safeguards can and must remain in place during talks. The views of all political parties and communities should be sought, but the influence of those with vested interests in the war, at home and abroad, should not be allowed to stall the process. I urge the GoSL and LTTE to put aside their animosity and quarrelling, review their quality of leadership and facilitate security, freedom and dignity for all.

Sri Lankan Cricket and Life

At this time of world cup fervour we do well to remember that it is not just the prowess of our team that is noteworthy. Its visible unity in ethno-religious diversity that enhances performance, is also most remarkable. Made up of the Sanaths and the Muralis, the Mahelas and the Dilshans and the Mahroofs, the Arnolds and the Vaas’ this characteristic of our Team should spur our Nation towards a similar goal of unity in diversity.

May God soon give us such a Nation in which all will belong and be united as equals, and each will contribute towards the common good.

I wish all our beloved people a blessed and selfless Easter and a generous and peaceful New Year.

With Peace and Blessings.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo