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Sri Lankan Government told to end state-sanctioned human rights abuse of Muslims

26th Jul 2019
Sri Lankan Government told to end state-sanctioned human rights abuse of Muslims

A damaged mosque after a Buddhist mob attack at the Hettipola village in Kurunegala, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka  (Photo: Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency)

Harun Nasrullah

A host of international bodies including the United Nations, European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs have all voiced concerns over the mistreatment and abuse of Muslims by authorities in Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Watch has called for an end to the abuse of Muslims in Sri Lanka including the arbitrary arrests and detentions of hundreds of people under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ‘a long-abused law that the Government pledged to the UN Human Rights Council to repeal.

The NGO’s demand comes a month after an EU delegation to Sri Lanka joined with the embassies of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Norway and Switzerland and the UK High Commission in voicing deep concern at the ‘political and religious pressure being directed at Sri Lanka’s Muslim community which is undermining peace and reconciliation in the country. Prejudiced and unsubstantiated allegations repeatedly published by media serve only to fuel intolerance.

The statement released on June 12 continues, ‘We urge the President, Prime Minister, and all political leaders to reassert the state’s commitment to mutual respect, tolerance, and equal treatment under the law for all, irrespective of faith or ethnicity.

A day after the resignation of Muslim cabinet ministers on July 3, the OIC warned of an increase in anti-Muslim incidents in Sri Lanka.OIC has been monitoring the situation closely of Muslims in Sri Lanka,’ the group of 57 member-states said in a statement.

The OIC said it’s alarmed at the ‘rise in incidents of intimidation, anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate speech promulgated by certain groups in the country. It also renewed its call on the Sri Lanka authorities “to counter firmly the spread of rhetoric of hatred and intolerance, while ensuring the security and safety of the Muslim community in that country.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said she was “disturbed by reports of anti-Muslim attacks” in Sri Lanka, including “recent statements by some religious leaders inciting violence [that] constitute worrying early warning indicators that should be addressed.

According to the findings of a Human Rights Watch investigation published on July 3, Muslims are often arrested without any evidence of terrorist involvement, for reasons including having the Qur’an or other Arabic literature in their possession during searches.
Human Rights Watch called on Sri Lankan officials to ‘stop endorsing, ignoring, or exploiting hate speech and mob violence directed at Muslims by members of the Buddhist clergy and other powerful figures.

The rights group also demanded the Government to follow through on its pledges to the UN Human Rights Council to ensure human rights reforms, transitional justice, accountability, and reconciliation as well as the impartial enforcement of the law to protect all Sri Lankans.
Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch South Asia Director, called for swift action “to stop mob violence, threats, and discrimination against Muslims.

“The ethnic violence and human rights violations that many Sri Lankans have suffered are now being directed against Muslims,” Ganguly said. “The Sri Lankan Government needs to take a stand against discrimination and intolerance, use the law to punish those responsible for abuses and protect, rather than target vulnerable people.”

HRW says, state complicity’ in the abuse of Muslim is evident in its interviews with victims, activists and lawyers. In May the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka found that the Government failed to protect Muslims during communal rioting. Police have repeatedly failed to act properly or prosecute perpetrators.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, ‘Officials have made little effort to discourage public campaigns by religious figures that put the Muslim community at greater risk.
On May 15, Gnanarathana Thero, one of the country’s most senior Buddhist monks, called for the stoning Muslims and spread the groundless allegation that Muslim-owned restaurants put “sterilisation medicine” in their food to suppress the majority Sinhalese Buddhist birth-rate.

Government leaders have also been accused of mixing with Buddhist nationalist elements and junior ministers were forced to resign after the opposition accused them of supporting “Islamist militants.

On May 23, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the country’s most powerful Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena or the ‘Buddhist Power Force’, who has long been associated with instigating deadly anti-Muslim violence, freeing him after he had served less than a year of a six-year prison term for contempt of court.

Speaking in a rally on July 7, Thero told his hardline base they must take democratic control of Parliament. Addressing hundreds of monks and followers in Kandy called on Sri Lanka’s 10,000 Buddhist temples to help win votes for candidates from the Sinhala Buddhist majority.
“We the clergies should aim to create a Sinhala government. We will create a parliament that will be accountable for the country, a parliament that will protect Sinhalese,” said Gnanasara.

He also said the politicians should leave the fight against “Islamist extremism” to the monks.
We can talk to them face to face in villages and create the Muslim culture as we want without going for extremism. It’s our responsibility because this is a Sinhalese country. We are the historical owners of this country,” he said.

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