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Sri Lanka must do more to rein in hate speech, faith-based violence – UN rights experts

As Sinhalese nationalist Buddhists continue to perpetrate violence with impunity, Christians and especially Muslims in Sri Lanka have faced a severe level of religiously motivated attacks in recent years. Human rights experts from the United Nations conclude that Sri Lanka urgently needs to put measures in place to protect vulnerable Christians and Muslims, to defuse “further attacks and a risk of spiralling violence” against religious minorities.

7/2/2014 Sri Lanka (UN News Centre) – Aiming to stem the tide of violent attacks and recrimination against Sri Lanka’s Muslim and Christian communities, a group of United Nations human rights experts called today on the Government to adopt urgent measures to stop the promotion of racial and faith-based hatred and end “the atmosphere of impunity” fuelling hate speech and violence by Buddhist extremists.

Among other incidents, the UN independent experts – respectively monitoring freedom of religion, minority issues and summary executions – expressed serious concern about violence against Muslim and Christian communities by Buddhist groups with extremist views, and urged the Sri Lankan authorities to bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 350 violent attacks against Muslims and over 150 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 acts of violence throughout Sri Lanka frequently.

On 15 June, a local group promoting extremist Sinhalese nationalist views, Bodu Bala Sena (The Buddhist Power Force, or “BBS”), staged a large protest rally in Aluthgama that resulted in inter-communal violence, during which four people died and about 80 were injured. Homes and shops owned by Muslims, as well as mosques, were vandalized and some set ablaze.

“This violence is fuelled by the atmosphere of impunity in Sri Lanka,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said. “Impunity and inadequate response from the police and judicial authorities aimed at protecting the lives, physical security, the property and places of worship of these communities may encourage further attacks and a risk of spiralling violence.”

Against such a backdrop, he 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.

“The Government must end the violence and put in place urgent protective measures to ensure the personal security of all individuals belonging to religious minority communities living in the country,” the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, added.

“The full range of rights of religious minorities must be guaranteed in law and protected in practice,” she noted, welcoming the President’s announcement of the appointment of a high-level panel to investigate those incidents.

OHCHR said that alongside BBS, other groups promoting extremist views in Sri Lanka, such as the Sinhala Ravaya and the Hela Bodu Powura, purport to be 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 converting 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.

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