SRI LANKA: AHRC Writes to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit On Dignity of Women Prisoners

A Letter from the Asian Human Rights Commission to His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop’s House, Borella,
Colombo 08, Sri Lanka

Fax: 0094-11-2692009,

December 22, 2020

Dear Cardinal Ranjith,

On behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission, I write to make a request for you to make a special gift to the women prisoners in Sri Lanka, which would be a continuing gesture of goodwill towards those needy women, beginning with Christmas 2020.

First of all, we take this opportunity to wish your Eminence, the Bishop’s Conference of Sri Lanka and all Catholics, a very happy and blessed Christmas. Christmas this year is being celebrated in a grim atmosphere due to the circumstances of COVID19. The world over, normal religious ceremonies and celebrations have been modified to meet the demands of the moment and the consideration of the health of all concerned.

Notwithstanding, Christmas is still a season of goodwill and of generosity. This Christmas the message of love and generosity remains more relevant than ever. Despite adverse circumstances, this message should be kept alive as it is so essential for everyone.

The particular reason we are writing this letter to you arises from an issue documented in the prison study by the

Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, HRCSL. It made a comprehensive study of the conditions of the prisons in Sri Lanka. An executive summary of this report has been published and is now available to the public. For your easy reference, we give below the link to that report. We draw your kind attention especially to Section 18 of this report, starting on page 26, which is about the condition of women prisoners in the prison. Though the women population in prisons is relatively small, they do suffer some serious problems: one as related below.

We draw your particular attention to the following paragraph in this report:

“Female prisoners also complained about the lack of access to sanitary napkins, as these are not distributed by the prison unless a donation is made to the prison by an external organization. Remanded women rely on their family members to supply them with sanitary napkins through family visits. Convicted women and foreign nationals obtain them by completing the following household tasks. It could be washing dishes and clothes for other inmates who have adequate supplies in return for sanitary napkins and toiletries.”

You are well aware that the dignity of these women requires that this basic need for preserving their sanitary living conditions is essential for their daily lives. It is an indispensable part of the Christian faith that the sacredness and respect for life and the dignity of the person must be preserved at all times under all circumstances. The present conditions relating to this particular matter is disparaging. It belittles not only women in prison, but women in general in Sri Lanka and the country as a whole.

We propose a continuing gesture of goodwill with positive significance. It would encompass the concern that is paid to the concept of female human dignity and the sacredness of

life. To intervene at this stage and offer a necessary gift to the women prisoners would fulfil an on-going personal need they all have. Our proposal is for you to arrange to provide a sufficient supply of sanitary napkins to women prisoners. The total number of women prisoners is below 600. Through our consultations we have learned two things: first-the actual cost involved is quite minimal; second, even if provisions are made on a yearly basis, it will continuously provide the women prisoners a definite intimate item that they need to use on a regular basis.

We, therefore, request your kind intervention. Please make this special gesture of goodwill and enable Christmas 2020 to be celebrated by showing these women we truly care for one another in matters large and small. We presume that if you do make this generous gift, it will be a gesture that will be replicated by Catholics and others in the future. By making this gift, it would be one means of reaching out to and visiting those women in prison.

We recall the words of Jesus: “I was in prison and you visited me.” It is also, perhaps, a reminder of the sense of duty that we owe and need to show to prisoners in general, particularly those who are in most difficult circumstances. It would be of great value for all Catholics to study this report through a committee of persons. And perhaps they could work out a way to continuously engage in being concerned about and taking steps for the welfare of female prisoners. Catholic priests, nuns and laypersons would benefit a great deal if this spirit of concern for the neglected prisoners becomes a part of their mindsets. This means that the basic message of compassion, as contained in the teachings of Jesus, will be ever in their minds. Such a spirit will also influence other religions. It is very likely that some of the very disheartening circumstances that prevail in the prisons may gradually be overcome and improvements made. A spirit of cooperation could be developed to support this ideal from within the community.

With best wishes of the Christmas season from all in the Asian Human Rights Commission,


Jack Clancey

Chairperson­ HRCSL Concise-Version.pdf

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-LTE-001-2020
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Inhuman & degrading treatment, Prison conditions, Women's rights,