Three United Nations experts on freedom of religion, minority issues, and summary executions today called on Sri Lanka to adopt urgent measures to stop the promotion of racial and faith-based hatred, and acts of violence against Muslim and Christian communities by Buddhist groups with extremist views.
More than 350 incidents of violent attacks on Muslims and over 150 similar attacks against Christians have been reported in Sri Lanka in the last two years. Muslim and Christian communities are reportedly subjected to hate speech, discrimination, attacks and outright acts of violence throughout Sri Lanka on an almost daily basis.
On 15 June 2014, a local group promoting extremist Sinhalese nationalist views, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS – The Buddhist Power Force), staged a large protest rally in Aluthgama that resulted in inter-communal violence, in which four people lost their lives and about 80 were injured. According to reports, Muslim-owned homes, shops and mosques were attacked, vandalized and some were set ablaze.
“Such violence is fueled by existing atmosphere of impunity in Sri Lanka particularly condoning militant Buddhist extremists,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, warned. “Impunity and the inadequate response by the police and judicial authorities to protect the lives, physical security and integrity, and the property and places of worship of these communities may encourage further attacks and a risk of spiralling violence.”
Mr. Bielefeldt urged Sri Lanka to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of minority religious communities and stop any advocacy of racial and religious hatred, as a show of respect for religious diversity and peaceful co-existence.
“The Government must stamp off the violence and put in place urgent protective measures to ensure the personal security of religious minority communities living in the country, under threat of hostility and violence by militant Buddhist extremists groups,” the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, stressed.
“The full range of rights of religious minorities must be guaranteed in law and protected in practice,” she noted, while welcoming the presidential announcement to appoint a high level panel to investigate those incidents.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, called on the Sri Lankan authorities “to undertake urgent and firm steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of those killings, while ensuring the immediate adoption of robust protective measures.”
“Showing determination in ensuring accountability in such cases must be a key element of the Government’s efforts to reduce the attacks and guarantee the safety of members of the religious minority communities,” Mr. Heyns said.
Alongside BBS, other groups promoting extremist views in Sri Lanka, such as the Sinhala Ravaya and the Hela Bodu Powura, purport themselves as the protectors of Sinhala Buddhism, which they claim is being threatened by Muslim and Christian religious minorities.
These extremist groups reportedly proclaim the racial superiority of Sinhala Buddhists and spread fear among local population, for example, through allegations that Buddha statues are being bulldozed by religious minorities, or that evangelical Christians are forcibly convert youths and sick patients in their hospital beds, or that Muslims are smuggling drugs and birth control pills in order to destroy Sinhalese people and prevent their reproduction.
“These statements contribute to spread a climate of fear among Sinhala Buddhists, who constitute the majority population in Sri Lanka, and resentment towards minorities,” the UN human rights experts said.
*The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. Three new mandates were added in March 2014. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.