Global Tamil Forum (GTF) strongly condemns the Sri Lankan Government’s complicity in the orders for the removal of the Muslim mosque in Dambulla, central Sri Lanka. GTF is profoundly disturbed by the attacks on the mosque by a minority, yet in their thousands as reported, of extremist Sri Lankan Buddhists led by monks on 20 April 2012, calling for its destruction claiming it was constructed illegally.
The inaction of law enforcement authorities to stop the attacks and the Prime Minister’s decision to order its removal and relocation highlights the State authorities’ continued infringement on religious freedom and intolerance of non-Buddhist faiths on the island. It is of greater concern that the Prime Minister’s office declared that the decision was taken in consultation with Muslim political leaders when this claim has been vehemently denied, as widely reported in the media. It is characteristic of successive Sri Lankan governments to succumb to pressure from the majority whenever there are ethnic tensions.
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka has said that the mosque was legally registered and has been in existence for over 50 years, long before the area was declared a sacred Buddhist area. Sri Lankan Muslims have a history in the island dating as far back as the 8th century.
The incident at the Dambulla mosque is not an isolated attack on a Muslim place of worship in recent months. In September 2011, a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura was demolished by a group of Buddhist monks. These incidents can only take place under a Government which is willing to turn a blind eye, and even encourage, the maltreatment of non-Buddhists.
Some Buddhist leaders have said that they intend to demolish 72 structures in the Dambulla area, including the mosque and a Tamil Hindu temple. These deplorable acts are indicative of the treatment suffered by other religions in Sri Lanka.
In the Tamil majority areas, of the North and East of the country, Hindu temples and Christian churches have been desecrated and destroyed whilst a number of Buddhist structures have been built in their place or within close proximity. Tamil National Alliance has highlighted, in their situation report to Parliament in October 2011, the rapidly changing demography of the North of Sri Lanka where the numbers of Buddhist statues, viharas and stupas on the A9 highway have noticeably increased. It was also highlighted that armed forces are preventing people from rebuilding original Christian and Hindu places of worship that have been damaged or destroyed during the war.
The politicisation of Buddhism as the state religion and the intervening influence it has in politics and social affairs continues to threaten religious minorities and hinder peaceful coexistence of all communities on the island.
GTF calls on the state institutions and law enforcement agencies in Sri Lanka to prevent all attacks on places of worship, whatever the faith, and to take immediate measures to ensure that all religions on the island are accorded the same treatment and respect. GTF strongly urges the Government of Sri Lanka to act immediately to build confidence among all communities that the state institutions and mechanisms will accept, protect and promote the religious and cultural rights of all its citizens, as the foundation for reconciliation and lasting peace on the island.
Global Tamil Forum (GTF) was established in 2009 by a number of grass-roots Tamil groups following the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. It is the largest Tamil diaspora organisation with members drawn from fifteen countries on five continents. GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda and it seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.