A delegation of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance is encouraged by the progress Sri Lanka has made since the country's 2015 election.
The USCIRF delegation comprising Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz and USCIRF Senior Policy Analyst Sahar Chaudhry visited Sri Lanka from March 15-17, 2015.
Upon their return, the Commissioner, Eric P. Schwartz said the delegation was encouraged by statements made by officials with whom they met.
"In particular, we welcome comments in support of national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka's religious and ethnic communities. After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government's engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups," the Commissioner said.
During their visit, the delegation has met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka's diverse religious communities, among others.
The Commission welcomed other measures by the Sri Lankan government, in the areas of freedom of expression and association in particular, which tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.
"We are very pleased to hear that reports of abuses perpetrated against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months. We encourage the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities," Schwartz stated.
While welcoming recent government measures, representatives of civil society with whom the delegation met have expressed continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction. This includes the ability to build houses of worship and to be free of any acts of intimidation or harassment.
The Commissioner expressed hope that Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come.
"Nonetheless, we leave Sri Lanka with a sense of great encouragement, and we look forward to further progress on these critically important issues," Schwartz said.