11/04/2021, 13.39
SRI LANKA
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Bishops oppose the concept of 'one country, one law'

by Melanie Manel Perera

The government has appointed a controversial Buddhist monk to lead a task force to provide advice to the president on legislation for all of the country’s communities. The bishops' conference condemns the decision and calls for a new constitution that guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) has asked the government to abandon the concept of "one country, one law" and draft instead a new Constitution.

Last month, President Gotabaya Rajapaska appointed a 13-member presidential task force, chaired by Galagodaththe Gnanasara Thero, an extremist Buddhist monk, to propose legislative reforms to place all Sri Lankan communities under the same laws.

The appointed task force includes representatives of the Muslim minority, but no Catholic, Hindu or Tamil representatives.

President Rajapaksa used the slogan ‘One Country, One Law’ in the 2019 presidential election, which he won thanks to the strong support of the Buddhist community.

The task force will submit a monthly update and a final report by February 2022.

CBCSL President Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla and CBCSL Secretary General Auxiliary Bishop J.D. Anthony Jayakody of Colombo released a joint statement on Tuesday, calling for the task force to be scrapped.

In the statement, they note that “No one would oppose the ‘one country, one law’ objective in governance provided it stems as a corollary of the Constitution of the country”.

To this end, “a new Constitution [should] be formulated which will give a guarantee to all citizens to stand equal before the law”.

For the bishops, “to appoint by a special gazette a Presidential Task Force comprising hand-picked individuals from outside without any reference to the democratically elected legislature is unacceptable”.

Their statement goes on to say that “The parliamentary process has been ignored in a matter of such grave concern”.

Furthermore, to pick a person to chair the task force “without giving any consideration to his past records” is to add “insult to injury”.

Gnanasara Thero is a controversial figure in Sri Lanka. General Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena, a nationalist Buddhist organisation, he was implicated in anti-Muslim riots in 2013 and was convicted on four counts of contempt of court in 2018.

He only served nine months of his six-year sentence after former president Maithripala Sirisena pardoned him.

Twenty-four major Muslim organisations signed a joint statement opposing the Buddhist monk’s appointment to chair the task force.

In his first press conference on Monday, Gnanasara Thero said he was committed with other members to fulfill the government's aims.

“Our responsibility is to create one nation that can get together under one flag and to formulate one law suitable for the country,” he said.

In his view, if Sri Lankans were willing to put the country first, regardless of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, the task force would be ready to listen to all opinions.

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