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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Concerted effort needed to protect Muslims from violence

National Peace Council.

An alarming number of attacks against Muslim religious places of worship and businesses are being reported countrywide causing economic ruin to many people, hurting their religious sentiment and bringing them dismay and leaving the entire community in fear of life and security. The worsening trend has been going on for several years and has a pattern of repeating after a short lull. It has intensified since April this year with over 20 attacks or attempted attacks being reported from different parts of the country in the past two months. So far no one has been arrested by the police for these crimes. Also, the government has so far failed to take steps to arrest this trend which has been acknowledged by the Minister of Law and Order in Parliament. This is an escalation of the longer-term trend that included the torching of a section of a town in the South of Sri Lanka (Aluthgama) in 2014 in which Muslims live in large numbers.

In most parts of the country the Muslim community lives in a scattered matter which makes them especially vulnerable to all kinds of violence against them and other minority communities living in a similar situation. The failure of the police to protect people who are being subjected to attack and violence is abdication of the government’s duty to protect all citizens equally. The rise in verbal and physical violence has been accompanied by public statements that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese and Buddhist country with the implication that ethnic and religious minorities have a lesser place. In one widely publicized instance a Buddhist monk even went to the office of the Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages and challenged him to a verbal duel on that basis. This is a subversion of a universal and peaceful religion in which there are no chosen people by birth that is being misinterpreted to suit the needs of a group of politically motivated people.

At the elections in 2015 the ethnic and religious minorities overwhelmingly voted for the government parties which promised to protect them from the violence, lawlessness and impunity to which they had been subjected in the past. The Sri Lankan people need to keep in mind the lessons from the past in which the failure to protect minorities from discrimination became a cause for three decades of war. We have seen that when problems are not resolved and are permitted to go on unchecked that they escalate with time. They can lead to catastrophic outcomes in the future – a situation Sri Lanka can ill afford.

The government has to pay attention to the growing anti-Muslim sentiments among segments of majority community and the use of violent means to take their message and action to the ground. This situation needs to be investigated and the root causes need to be addressed through meaningful short-term and long term actions. Countering false propaganda will need to be a central part of the government and civil society agendas. Further, the general public and civil society organizations need to be made aware of the recent negative development from the perspective of rebuilding our country after long years of war and suffering.

The National Peace Council notes that in the past the police took action under the Incitement to Disaffection Act without waiting for permission from the political authority. The police need to take action under the law to exercise the powers given to them to nip such actions in the bud and maintain law and order under the powers given to them in the Criminal Procedure Code, the criminal law and the Police Ordinance. The National Peace Council calls on the government to ensure that all state institutions act in concert to protect and uphold human rights and also insist that the police to uphold the law and put an end to impunity. The Independent Commissions established under the 19th Amendment to strengthen the Rule of Law and good governance could play an effective role at this time in monitoring the performance of the police and in giving them the necessary encouragement.


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