Respect human rights, civil freedom, the pope tells the leaders of Sri Lanka

Pope Francis speaks during the weekly general audience in the Vatican, May 11, 2022. (Reuters / Guglielmo Mangiapane)

Pope Francis on Wednesday urged the Sri Lankan authorities, shaken by the unrest due to the country’s worst economic crisis, to “listen to the hopes of the people” and respect human rights and civil liberties.

Protesters targeted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family, blaming them for a meltdown in the Indian Ocean nation that led to huge shortages of key food, fuel and medicine products.

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Soldiers are now patrolling the streets of Colombo, the commercial capital, with orders to shoot anyone who damages public property or endangers life.

Speaking at the end of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis noted that it was mainly young people who demonstrated against the social and economic problems of the country and asked for calm on all sides.

“I appeal to all those who have the responsibility to listen to the hopes of the people, guaranteeing full respect for human rights and civil liberties,” he said.

Sri Lanka, which Francis visited in 2015, has a Buddhist majority but has a small Christian community that amounts to about 7% of the total population. Most Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholic.

—Reportage by Philip Pullella, edited by Gareth Jones