The National Symposium on Religions to Reconcile: Strengthening Inclusive Reconciliation was held in Colombo under NPC’s Plural Action for Conflict Transformation (PACT) project, marking the conclusion of the project that covered 17 districts.

Participants at the symposium included President Ranil Wickremesinghe, former speaker Karu Jayasuriya, German Ambassador Dr. Felix Neumann, Head of Cooperation of the European Union Mr. Johann Hesse, former minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, Misereor Regional Officer Corinna Broeckmann, former MP Ferial Ashraff, MP Mano Ganesan, MP Eran Wickramaratne, MP Rauff Hakeem, former MP Nalinda Jayatissa, NPC chairman Dr. Joe William and NPC Executive Director Dr. Jehan Perera.

President Wickremesinghe expressed his support for the project’s achievements, drawing a link between religion and reconciliation. He called on the religious leaders to come forward to promote peaceful coexistence, adding that Sri Lanka was in the last part of reconciliation, which was coexistence. He cited disappearances as one of the issues that still needed to be addressed.

Dr. William likened inter religious dialogue to a treasure that united diverse religions on a path of righteousness. Emphasising principles of non-violence, he asked participants to journey together through injustices and challenging times, encouraging a spirit of cooperation and understanding.

Mr. Jayasuriya noted that for the future of the country, national reconciliation was important. He said there was a consensus that religious leaders should join together as a positive movement for change. “There should be unity created between the North and South, which still requires trust building and gaining confidence among people.” He added that the problems should not be handed over to the next generation. “We should build a peaceful society in our country. I wish that,” Mr. Jayasuriya said.

Mr. Ganesan appealed to religious leaders not to get involved in politics, pointing out that there needed to be a distance between politics and religion. He emphasised that plurality and diversity should be celebrated. “People should not feel proud separately but as Sri Lankans,” he said.

Dr. Neumann said the religious dimension fostered through several NPC projects was important for people to heal from war and violence. “There should be a mutual acceptance of the past. I hope that recent constitutional reforms can contribute to addressing past grievances and promoting dialogue. The voices of all communities need to be respected,” he said.

Dr. Hesse observed that building trust was central to reconciliation. Engaging in dialogue, listening to one another would help in trust building. He expressed the hope that interventions such as this would help to rise above divisive rhetoric.

Ms. Broeckmann, who represented Misereor, the main donor partner of the PACT project under which this symposium took place, referred positively to the role of Civil Society Organisations, which are acting in a shrinking space. She affirmed that the core approach of Misereor was a global solidarity when it comes to civil society and to fill gaps where they are present in other countries.

Prof. Peiris said there was a need to genuinely engage in dialogue and express one’s views. He pointed out weakness in the political systems and communications and the need to implement the devolution of power.

Mr. Wickramaratne said that the main issue was that of majoritarianism and that it affected the thinking of all communities. He read out a special message sent by the Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, in which he congratulated NPC on holding the symposium.

Mrs. Ashraff said that religion could be used as an excuse for certain behaviours. She noted that rights of women were accordingly restricted.

Mr. Hakeem regretted that reconciliation was not pursued at the close of the war when it had been most possible. He said that laws need take into account the prevailing context and reality.

Dr. Jayatissa said that people should be unified and be brought together rather than divided. He said that elections were important as this would ensure the sovereignty of the people.

Discussions at the symposium extended beyond religious dialogue, touching on the importance of an inclusive education system and the need for constitutional reforms to address past grievances. It brought to light various perspectives on reconciliation from acknowledging cultural differences to addressing language barriers. The consensus among speakers was clear: unity and trust building were essential for a peaceful future. The call for immediate action, avoiding the transference of unresolved issues to future generations, was a reminder of the urgency of reconciliation efforts.

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