In order to address these issues, NPC commenced a project entitled Collective Engagement for Religious Freedom (CERF) aimed at promoting religious freedom within the framework of pluralism and the rule of law, which is being implemented in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Kandy, Badulla, Kalutara, Gampaha, Matara and Ampara districts.
During the 24-month project, local inter religious groups will engage with police officials to ensure that people are able to practice their religion freely in areas identified as possible sites of tension. The lessons learnt will be taken to national and local levels for replication.
As a start, research was carried out to find out hot spots where religious conflict could break out, to analyse the underlying causes of religious tension and to measure the extent of religious freedom by formulating a religious freedom index. Eight hot spots were identified in Divisional Secretary Divisions: Akurana, Addalaichchenei, Beruwala, Mannar, Mahiyanganaya, Negombo, Vauniya and Weligama.
Local Inter Religious Committees (LIRCs), modelled on NPC’s experience with its District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs), have been set up to promote religious harmony and coexistence at the district level.
The members of these groups are being trained in religious freedom, pluralism, transitional justice, gender, non-violent communication, conflict sensitivity, conflict analysis, early warning and mediation.
The project is training police officers on their role in upholding rule of law to prevent violence and enable religious freedom. The message is being given that regardless of community sentiment, the police need to uphold the law.
The religious leaders will advocate at the national level for religious pluralism with policy makers, religious leaders, and opinion makers including media, promoting the idea that religious freedom is a right and not a privilege. Advocacy campaigns in hotspots will be devised by LIRCs, NGOs and police involving local media and targeting the public.