United Nations experts on Wednesday called on Sri Lanka to adopt urgent measures to stop promotion of racial and faith-based hatred, and violence against Muslim and Christian communities by Buddhist groups with extremist views, and bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.
The U.N.’s call for religious tolerance from the U.N. experts comes a fortnight after the hard-line Bodu Bala Sena (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 vandalised and some set ablaze. Amid allegations that the BBS was backed by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaka’s brother, the Defence Secretary in a recent interview to Daily Mirror, a local newspaper here, denied any involvement with the BBS and said he would resign if the alleged association is proven.
Sri Lanka has been witnessing incidents of violent attacks against religious minorities in the last couple of years. Over 350 violent attacks against Muslims and over 150 attacks against Christians have been reported in Sri Lanka in the last two years, according to a press release from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Muslim and Christian communities are reportedly subjected to hate speech, discrimination, attacks and acts of violence throughout Sri Lanka frequently, it said.
“This violence is fuelled by the atmosphere of impunity in Sri Lanka,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said.
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.
Alongside the 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.
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.