Easter should spur Catholics to defend human rights in Sri Lanka
by Melani Manel Perera
Interview with Sister Deepa Fernando, a nun with the Congregation of the Holy Family, and a member of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM). According to her, Christians in Sri Lanka sometimes "forget that we are all brothers and sisters." For this reason, we must follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who "died to protect the rights of others."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - "If the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka really wants to build peace and development between human beings hurt in this country, it should participate in the reconciliation process through concrete actions," said Sr Deepa Fernando, a nun from the Congregation of the Holy Family, and a member of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM).

"Giving advice or making requests to the government is not enough," she told AsiaNews. "We can begin with Easter, which is a great opportunity for all believers to see ' who is really Christian'."

An experienced of grassroots work among northern communities affected by the civil war, she attended the latest session of the United Nations Council for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Geneva where a new resolution was passed slamming Sri Lanka.

Here is the interview with her (Adapted by AsiaNews).

What were your special observations in the Geneva sessions?

The most interesting thing I saw was the effort made by each state to show the world how good they are in protecting human rights in their respective countries. But we hear that all these countries engage in human rights violations. They torture people, make people disappear, take people into custody in an unlawful manner, cause refugees, grab land from the legal owners, engage in sexual violence against women and destroy their natural environments.

This contradiction was evident in the report presented by the Sri Lankan State representative and the reports by civil society groups. [The former] urged that more time be given to the Sri Lankan government to strengthen its activities. [The] others opposed that view. They ask themselves, 'If the government has failed to bring peace in the past five years, after the war, by giving it more time what progress could it make?' In fact, as these sessions were underway, two Catholic human rights activists [. . .] were taken in custody.

However, the Catholic Church is not entirely in agreement with the international inquiry. As a nun, what is your opinion?

During wartime and the post-war period, human rights were violated and have been being violated. Solutions have not been found for the problems Tamils face, and no answers have been found for the human rights violations that are taking place.

[A] considerable number of Tamils live without proper houses. They have lost their properties. They are living under difficult conditions. There is no political solution or an acceptable answer to these situations. The authorities need to look at these problems deeply and come up with a genuine solution.

As a Christian, I say that Jesus was invariably with the oppressed people. Even today, He is with those who are victimised through human rights violations. Hence, the Catholic Church should be with the oppressed communities.

If the Catholic Church does not want to accept the international inquiry, it should have acted before, more actively and wisely, to pressure the government to implement genuinely all the recommendations without letting the victims suffer.

In this process, the Church cannot wash its hands by only issuing statements, or bringing suggestions or requests to the government.

As a Church, we should follows the steps of Jesus, and listen to His voice.

In your view, what should Christians do to protect human rights?

The Holy Bible gives its message from the beginning to the end. However, there is fear because of the word 'Human Rights'. Responsibility is handed over completely to a separate group.

In reality, Jesus died because he came forward to protect the rights of others. This kind of a love is what He professed. We should go beyond set rules to show our love. There is no point in engaging only in our rituals as Catholics. We should be able to have sensitivity towards those who are suffering. It is our responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who are under the yoke of their oppressors.

Pope Francis too raises the same voice to look out for the needy and help them. Irrespective of colour and creed, we have to support the oppressed people. We call God the Father, but we forget that everyone is a brother and a sister.

Christians will have to come forward genuinely and show their Christian love. That is the Christian calling.