Becket Fund Oral Intervention
United Nation Human Rights Commission 2005
THE RIGHT TO GIVE AND RECEIVE CHARITABLE
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
1350 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 605
Washington DC 20036
United States of America
Contact Person: Emilie Kao
Legal Counsel and Director of International Advocacy
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
In 1948, a young woman from Albania went
to the slums of Calcutta with a simple mission--to care for the
"unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for." For almost 50
years, she tended to their most basic needs: the need to receive
medicine for sickness, the need to be fed, the need to be cleaned,
and the need to be part of a community. That woman was Mother Teresa
and her years of service eased countless hours of human suffering
and brought hope to those who had none.
Today, the region that Mother Teresa served
in stands devastated by last year's tragic tsunami. Millions of
individuals and families suffered paralyzing losses and now struggle
daily to rebuild their lives. However, Mother Teresa's order and
the people whom they care for are in grave danger in Sri Lanka.
In fact, all religious believers who provide charitable aid are
Incredibly, the government of Sri Lanka
is considering legislation this month that will block any person
of faith from offering aid to someone of another belief. Radical
Theravada Buddhist politicians who do not tolerate any religion
other than their own have pressured the government to pass this
legislation as a method of ostensibly curbing "unethical conversions."
This radical minority would sooner see their neighbors suffer than
accept a glass of water from someone of another faith.
If Sri Lanka's Parliament passes this legislation,
it will only undermine its people's economic and social recovery.
Of American tsunami relief groups alone, 30 of 67 are faith-based,
including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim organizations. World Vision,
whose offices were bombed by Buddhist extremists, has stayed in
Sri Lanka and provided over 200 million US dollars of tsunami aid.
Yet, the proposed legislation would put faith-based aid workers
in jail for up to seven years if they are found "guilty"
of providing assistance to someone of another religion. In the face
of both physical imprisonment and staggering financial penalties,
what will happen to the stream of aid that people of faith from
around the world have extended to Sri Lanka? What will happen to
the child who needs a home, a dose of medicine, or a meal?
Sri Lanka ratified the International Covenant
on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on June 11, 1980,
thereby agreeing to protect every person's right to give and to
receive aid. See ICESCR Article 1(2) (protecting the right to "freely
dispose of . . . natural wealth and resources"); ICESCR Article
11(1) (protecting the right to "continuous improvement of living
conditions"). Sri Lanka should fulfill its commitment to promoting
the economic and social well-being of its citizens by allowing all
aid providers, regardless of religious conviction, to give freely,
generously, and openly to all Sri Lankans.
Last year, the Sri Lankan government told
this assembly that it could be trusted to honor its international
commitments. However, the government's persistent efforts to criminalize
faith-based aid over the course of the past year tell a different
story. Therefore, we again call upon this Commission to ask the
government to withdraw the proposed legislation. Finally, we appeal
to all members of Sri Lanka's Parliament to act in the best interests
of their people by opposing passage of this law.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.