The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed called on Minister Tilak Marapana at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today, commencing his official country visit to Sri Lanka from 15- 26 August 2019.
The Special Rapporteur is undertaking this visit in response to the standing invitation extended to all thematic UN special procedures mandate holders by Sri Lanka in 2015. This is the 10th such visit by a special procedures mandate holder to the country in the past four years. The Government of Sri Lanka and the Special Rapporteur had agreed to schedule this visit in 2018.
During the meeting today, Foreign Minister Marapana said that in line with the Government’s policy of engaging in an open, transparent and constructive dialogue with the international community including the UN, a number of visits of special procedures mandate holders have been facilitated. He noted that the Government has always appreciated engagement with the Special Rapporteurs and taken note of their feedback positively. He assured the Special Rapporteur that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) will provide its fullest cooperation to him during his visit.
The Special Rapporteur while thanking the Government for the invitation, acknowledged the difficulties and sensitivities faced by the country particularly in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday incidents. He particularly appreciated the manner in which the Government has taken efforts to guarantee the safety and security of the displaced asylum seekers and refugees following the incidents of 21 April 2019.
The Special Rapporteur also attended a meeting of relevant Government officials, chaired by Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha. This meeting was attended by a number of Government agencies including the Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka Police, the Attorney General’s Department, Ministry of Buddha Sasana & Wayamba Development, Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs, Ministry of Postal Services & Muslim Religious Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, Ministry of Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs, National Education Commission, Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation and the Office for Reparations.
During the Government Stakeholders meeting, Foreign Secretary Aryasinha stated that in assessing the developments of Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday attack, the capacity shown by the Government to normalize the situation and ensuring the safety and security of all peoples should be noted. He added that the GoSL is keen to learn from the experience of the Special Rapporteur on addressing issues of de-radicalization and extremism, as well as best practices used by other countries in managing the issues that arise in protecting the freedom of religion or belief.
The Special Rapporteur is expected to visit several areas in the Northern, Eastern, North Western and Central Provinces during his visit. He will also meet with a cross section of religious leaders, representatives of the civil society, as well as with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.
At the conclusion of the visit, a de-briefing for Government stakeholders will be held on 26 August 2019 which will be followed by a Press Conference on the same day, where the preliminary findings of the Special Rapporteur will be shared with the media. The Special Rapporteur will submit his Report on the country visit to the Human Rights Council in March 2020.