Some of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks have become influential critics of the ongoing constitutional reform process by drawing red lines around core reform issues, including the status of Buddhism and the devolution of power. As a result, the space for open, facts-based deliberations on the constitution as a vehicle for rights-focused, post-conflict nation building in Sri Lanka has narrowed.
In an attempt to expand the space for dialogue, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) provided support for civil society actors to engage in dialogue with Buddhist monks. On 15 and 16 October 2017, DRI conducted a two-day programme for civil society activists on Buddhist principals and human rights at the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue in Colombo.
The participating activists examined the concepts of good governance and rule of law and critically engaged with the notion of human rights, often considered a Western concept. In discussing Buddhist principles and concepts the activists identified their compatibility with human rights, making connections with various United Nations’ human rights conventions.
The participants also discussed ways to focus on incorporating human rights-strengthening Buddhist concepts throughout the constitution rather than looking at constitutional change through the narrow lens of a mere political process or document.
Participants will feed their insights back into village level discussions with Buddhist priests. Through this informed dialogue, they support greater constructive engagement of Buddhist leaders and teachings in the process of constitutional and political reform.