Proposed burqa ban causing international ripple-effect

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  • OIC Human Rights Commission lodges strong protest
  • Foreign Minister holds discussions with HC for Pakistan
  • Foreign Secretary assures burqa ban is ‘just a proposal’

Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera’s proposed ban on the burqa in the island continues to cause ripples internationally ahead of a crucial vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Sri Lanka is counting on support of Islamic nations to defeat a resolution.

Yesterday the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a large grouping of Islamic states world over, strongly denounced the Government’s proposed ban on the full-face veil and the decision to shut down 1,000 madrasas or schools of Islamic teaching in the island, as Weerasekera announced a few days ago.

The OIC IPHRC said it condemned the Sri Lankan Minster’s statement to ban burqas and madrasas, as being a violation of Articles 18 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil And Political Rights which guarantees minorities the right to freely profess, practice and manifest their religion.

In a series of tweets, the OIC commission, one of the principal organs of the grouping, said it was urging the Sri Lankan Government to publicly denounce ‘discriminatory and Islamophobic’ statements and ‘desist’ from these measures against law abiding Muslims. The OIC IPHRC said that the measures negated the ‘spirit of pluralism’ and were a violation of international humanitarian law.

The fiery statement from the OIC comes in the wake of an equally swift and unsubtle statement from the High Commissioner for Pakistan in Colombo, Maj Gen. (retd) Muhammad Saad Khattak. In a clear signal of warning to the Government of Sri Lanka, High Commissioner Khattak said the likely ban on niqab in Sri Lanka would only serve as an ‘injury’ to the feelings of Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. “At today’s economically difficult time due to the pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country,” Islamabad’s envoy noted in a two-tweet statement soon after the announcement.

Sri Lanka has traditionally relied heavily on Pakistan to make its case at the UN Human Rights Council.

In a clear attempt at damage control, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunewardane held discussions with High Commissioner Khattak. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that the meeting was to discuss the ‘further action regarding the outcome of the recent visit to Sri Lanka by Pakistani Premier Imran Khan’.

Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colambage also issued an official statement on the proposed burqa ban, insisting that it was merely a proposal under discussion. Secretary Colambage said the proposal was based on the necessity for precautions to be taken on ‘national security grounds’ following the release of the report by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks. Colambage promised the Government would initiate ‘broader dialogue with all parties concerned’ and consultations would be held before consensus is reached on the issue.

The vote on the resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka will likely be taken at the Human Rights Council next Monday (22).

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