Religious Liberty Groups Spotlight Sri Lanka Crisis

Religious freedom groups are calling on Christians around the world to pray for humanitarian efforts to reach uprooted Sri Lankan civilians affected by the ongoing civil war and for the country to respect religious freedom.

In "The Toronto Statement," the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) addresses proposed anti-conversion laws, the need to support those affected by the conflict between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the need for prayers for churches located in conflict zones.

"This is yet another example of the Christian family worldwide standing together and calling its members to pray into a complex, but very serious political situation," said Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, UK and chairman of the Religious Liberty Partnership. "The Toronto Statement is in full accord with the RLP's reputation for taking a balanced approach in these issues and we trust that this call to prayer will be heeded by Christians globally."

Issued on Tuesday, The Toronto Statement is signed by 17 non-government organizations from around the world including: Open Doors International (Holland), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (United Kingdom), The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada), All India Christian Council (India), China Aid (USA), and the Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance (representing 128 countries).

While the statement highlights problems Christians should pray for, it also notes that there have been some improvements in the country.

The RLP acknowledges that the Sri Lankan government has made visible efforts to protect the constitutional right to freedom of religious choice by not enacting proposed anti-conversion laws. It also recognizes that there have been regular parliamentary elections despite threats to democracy, and the Sri Lankan church is making great efforts to care for and meet the humanitarian needs of all religious and ethnic groups.

"The World Evangelical Alliance fully supports this statement and stands in prayerful solidarity with the Christian community in Sri Lanka at this time of crisis," said Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, WEA international director.

Tunnicliffe attended the Toronto meeting and noted that the statement is "extremely important" and deserves the attention of leaders around the world.

Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean located south of India, has been wracked by a two-decade civil war between LTTE rebels and the elected government. The war officially ended in 2002, but sporadic fighting continued afterwards with a surge in violence in 2006.

The LTTE says it is fighting to create a separate state for the country's 3.1 million ethnic minority Tamils, which it claims is being discriminated against in Sri Lanka.

U.N. estimates put the number of deaths at more than 70,000 people with over 460,000 displaced.