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Concentrate on Consistency, not Contradiction

18 March 2021 02:38 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It was not too long ago that the Sri Lankan government was to some extent, able to resolve the cremation or burial dilemma by permitting the burial of Muslims, who die of Covid-related ailments. The approval for such a move came after months of protests especially by Muslims locally and abroad. Burials are currently being carried out with the assistance of the army at a burial site at Ottamavadi in the Batticaloa district.


In the wake of the foregoing comes the news of government moves to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa or the niqab. It was temporarily banned soon after the Easter Sunday suicide attacks, carried out by some locally-based Muslim extremists linked to the Islamic State (IS), on three churches and three luxury hotels which left nearly 260 dead and more than 500 including men, women and children injured, some maimed for life.


A Colombo datelined AP report said the Pakistani Ambassador in Sri Lanka and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief had expressed concerns over Sri Lanka’s proposed move to ban the body and face cover worn by some Muslim women and the closure of more than 1,000 Madrasas or Islamic schools because they did not follow the national education policy and was a threat to national security.


Ambassador Saad Khattak, tweeted on Monday that the ban would only serve to injure the feelings of Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe and that, ‘at an economically difficult time resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and other image-related challenges faced by the country at the international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, would only serve as a fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country’ while UN special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, had tweeted that burqa bans are incompatible with international law which guarantees the right to manifest one’s religion or belief and of freedom of expression.


The aforesaid resulted from a statement made by Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara describing the burqa as a sign of religious extremism and said it had a direct impact on national security. He said he signed a memorandum on Friday seeking Cabinet approval to ban all forms of face-cover other than the head-cover and claimed that the proposal to ban burqas and niqabs was for national security reasons and was not meant to be an affront on the Islam religion. He said this proposal would be submitted to the Cabinet which would decide on its implementation. The government’s proposed ban on burqas and niqabs has hit international headlines since the weekend with mixed concerns being expressed by human rights activists, who have questioned the timing of the proposed ban. 


Meanwhile, amid the furor caused by the minister’s proposal, the government’s Cabinet spokesman in an apparent attempt at damage control announced at the weekly Cabinet media briefing that a final decision on this matter would only be taken after further consultations. This was confirmed by Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage, who said a decision had not been taken by the Government to impose such a ban and it was merely a proposal, which is under discussion.


“This proposal has been based on national security considerations, following the investigations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attacks,” he said. “The Government will initiate a broader dialogue with all parties concerned and sufficient time will be taken for necessary consultations to be held and for a consensus to be reached.”


This leaves one to wonder why the ramifications and repercussions of such an important decision or for that matter of any such proposals are not fully thought out prior to making announcements because they lead to more confusion and contradiction in relation to vital policy matters.


Meanwhile, another important matter, which if not properly handled could rebound on the country, is the resolution on Sri Lanka tabled at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where as many as 40 countries are reported to be signatories to this resolution, either as co-sponsors or additional co-sponsors, making it an uphill task for the Government to counter. Another inclusion in the resolution by the core group is the government’s previous policy of mandatory cremation despite it being rescinded by the government some weeks ago. 


The next few weeks will reveal how these matters would pan out here and at the UNHRC while highlighting the fact that in all matters it’s better for the government to be consistent rather than leaving room for contradiction and confusion.

 

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