In a U-turn, Sri Lanka says it will retain personal laws, month after forming task force on uniform civil code

Sri Lanka will continue to retain personal laws for different communities, Foreign Minister G L Peiris has said after meeting with the envoys from Islamic countries, in a move that contradicts the government’s stated policy of enacting a unified personal code

Dec 02, 2021
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Foreign Minister G L Peiris

Sri Lanka will continue to retain personal laws for different communities, Foreign Minister G L Peiris has said after meeting with the envoys from Islamic countries, in a move that contradicts the government’s stated policy of enacting a unified personal code. Significantly, the statement came little over a month after the government formed a task force on “One Country One Rule.”

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka hosted a working dinner for envoys of Islamic countries based in Colombo on Tuesday. It was also attended by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister GL Peiris.  

In a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, Peiris said that the country’s democratic tradition was also “reflected in the rich and varied legal tradition of Sri Lanka which included personal laws specific to Muslim, Kandyan and Tamil communities, which Sri Lanka will continue to retain.” 

“Sri Lanka will continue to uphold its rich democratic tradition as a society where every person irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, or race enjoys the freedom to express their identity by practicing their own religion, culture, and language,” he was quoted as saying in the statement. 

The statement, however, is a clear departure from the government’s stated public position—where it promises to enact “One Country One Rule” — on the issue. The country’s religious minorities like Muslims and Christians have long resented the policy objectives adopted by the Rajapaksa government, which they say will undermine their cultural and social practices. 

Furthermore, Rajapaksa in October had appointed a task force—headed by a controversial hardliner Buddhist monk—to make recommendations to the government on “One Country One Rule.”

Gallagodatte Gnanasar, an ultra-conservative Buddhist monk, appointed to head the task force, is also known for his anti-minority rhetoric. He is also the head of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a  Sinhalese Buddhist and extreme nationalist organization. Earlier, he was sentenced to six months in prison in a contempt case. 

As Colombo’s ties with the West come under strain over its deteriorating human rights record, Sri Lanka has been seen putting concentrated efforts to keep its ties with Islamic countries in a good shape, despite its poor track record of treating its own Muslim community. 

Interestingly, earlier the government changed its burial policy for Muslim victims of the Covid-19 after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had criticized its actions. Days later, the member countries backed Colombo when it was faced with a harsh and critical resolution in the UNHRC. 

Furthermore, Colombo—which could possibly face a fuel shortage as its economy passes through a tough phase—has been seeking concessionary oil shipments, including on deferred payments. On that note, Sri Lanka’s attempt to warm its ties with Gulf countries seems an obvious choice.   

The Tuesday meeting was attended by envoys of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Qatar, the Maldives among others. 

(SAM) 

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