Photo Credit: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
The bishops of the Church of Ceylon, the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka, have warned of a potential “human catastrophe” in the Indian Ocean nation, where public unrest over an unprecedented economic crisis has spilled over into violence in recent days.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic collapse since it became independent from the UK in 1948. The nation is witnessing massive inflation, while basic goods like food and fuel are in short supply. Across the country, people are suffering lengthy power cuts.
The bishops said the people of Sri Lanka had been “left to fight for their survival”. They said the government “has failed to respond to these extreme and unprecedented situations and has kept the people totally in the dark on how it plans to navigate these challenging times”.
‘Desperate men and women’
Large and mostly peaceful public protests have been taking place for weeks, demanding action on the economy from the government and latterly, the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Many cabinet ministers have already stood down.
On 31 March, protests outside the president’s residence turned violent, with police using tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds. A number of protesters were arrested. In response, the government briefly and controversially declared a state of emergency. President Rajapaksa, who has said he has no plans to resign, later blamed an unidentified “extremist” group for the violence.
In their statement, issued on 2 April, the bishops of the Church of Ceylon said anyone responsible for violence should be brought to justice. But they condemned the use of force and the arrest of peaceful demonstrators. They also questioned the motives for “rushing to identify parties alleged to be responsible within such a short period of time without stating any credible basis for such conclusion”.
They said the government had a duty to “wake from its slumber” and listen to the “desperate men and women of Sri Lanka asking for relief in the hope that they will be heard”.
“We urge the President and the Government to listen to the cries of the people of this country and fulfil their fundamental obligations as a responsible administration. The state is duty bound to lay out its short, medium and long-term plans for economic recovery as a matter of urgency. The government has to devise a mechanism for immediate infusion of foreign currency to the economy in order to avert a human catastrophe of an unprecedented magnitude,” they said.
The bishops warned that the “suffering masses” had run out of patience and, with no sign of relief or support, “will continue to agitate and react with anger”, and that the police and armed forces must “act with discernment” in responding to unrest.
“Protests of this nature require a response of dialogue and engagement rather than suppression. Clamping down an island wide curfew to prevent people from expressing themselves is not the answer to the burning problems of the nation,” they said. “We hope that the cry of our masses will not fall on deaf ears and that the pain of our people will be seen with open eyes.”