The National Shoora Council views with alarm news reports that the Government is planning to amend the Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka in order to qualify for GSP Plus status.
The GSP+ status for Sri Lanka was withdrawn by the European Union during the tenure of the previous Government on account of the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka. This related mainly to the violation of civil and political rights in the country.
The present Government since it assumed office, has been strenuously pursuing its efforts to get the GSP+ restored for which the EU is reported to have laid down 58 conditions to be complied with. As far as we are aware the conditions stipulated and available in the public domain focuses mainly on civil and political rights.
The decision by the Cabinet to appoint a subcommittee to propose amendments to the Muslim Personal Law reportedly to meet the EU conditions has come as a shock and surprise to the Muslim Community.
The National Shoora Council has been of the view that the Muslim Personal Law that prevails in Sri Lanka has to be reformed to be brought in line with Islamic Law. However the NSC believes that such changes should originate from within the community itself and should not be foisted upon it from outside.
The fact that a Government appointed committee headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof and comprising religious scholars and professionals has been grappling with these issues for seven long years is an indication of the complexities involved in amending a law which is based on the divinely inspired Islamic Law. It is also ironic that the Government has appointed a Committee of Cabinet Ministers to propose amendments to the Muslim personal Law when the Saleem Marsoof Committee is on the verge of finalizing its report.
It is a moot question whether such a Cabinet Sub Committee can undertake a task best left to the experts. Muslim Ministers in the Sub Committee should be wary of being co-opted to this task and thereby earn the wrath of the Muslim community.
Interfering with the Muslim Personal Law would be tantamount to interfering with the freedom to practice one’s religion which has been guaranteed by the Constitution. The Muslim Personal Law has been a right enjoyed by the Muslims since pre-colonial times. The fact that Muslim Personal Law and other Personal Laws are on the statute book is a reflection of the diversity that we Sri Lankans are proud to claim as one of our strengths as a nation. Any attempt to withdraw such rights will also undermine the reconciliation process which has been set in motion by the Government.
The NSC therefore calls upon the Government to call a halt to the proposal to unilaterally amend the Muslim Personal Law and await the recommendations of the Saleem Marsoof Committee. We strongly urge the Yahapalana Government not to ignore the pleas of the Muslim Community who played a significant role in the transformation of 8th January 2015.