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Threats, intimidation and hate speech against Muslims and Christians continue to mar post-war transition to peace in Sri Lanka – new report

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Sri Lanka November 2016 report cover

Though Sri Lanka’s long and bloody civil war ended in 2009, and the election of a new government raised hopes for change last year, discrimination and rights violations against religious minorities persist, says a new report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).

According to the report, Confronting intolerance: continued violations against religious minorities in Sri Lanka, Muslims are subjected to hate speech by Buddhist nationalist groups, while Christians continue to face harassment and intimidation, often perpetrated by government officials or police.

‘The election of a new President and government last year were welcomed by religious minorities as an important step towards inclusion in Sri Lanka,’ says Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications, ‘However, despite some signs of progress, the new government has much work still to do to end violence and discrimination.’

 The report draws on incident reports documented by local rapporteurs, and says that between November 2015 to the end of September 2016, there were 47 recorded incidents of religious freedom violations against Christians. Over a slightly shorter period – from November 2015 to the end of June 2016 – 64 such incidents were reported against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.

There remain severe gaps in terms of legal action against perpetrators of religious violence and discrimination, says MRG. In many of the cases reported, police or government officials contributed to violations of religious freedom, or failed to protect victims – despite the fact that the Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees the right to equality, non-discrimination, and freedom of religion and religious worship.

In May, a violent mob attacked a church in Veyangoda during a service. Police did not intervene or arrest the attackers, and instead instructed the pastor in charge to halt the service and produce documentation as proof of the church’s legitimacy. Such incidents have been enabled by a contentious government Circular from 2008, which has been repeatedly misapplied to justify harassment of worshippers. Meanwhile, there has been scant legal action against perpetrators of hate speech and anti-Muslim violence.

Violations of religious minority rights and discrimination have marred Sri Lanka’s transition to peace following the end of the three-decade-long conflict in 2009. Religious nationalist groups have instigated anti-minority campaigns – such as vicious propaganda, protest rallies or violent attacks on Muslims and Christians, and their places of worship.

‘The government needs to take a strong stance on violations against religious minorities by addressing impunity and holding all those responsible to account, but also by publicly voicing opposition to religious intolerance in Sri Lanka,’ says Soderbergh. ‘The urgency of this is highlighted by events of recent weeks which have seen a concentration of threats, protest marches, and hate speech against minorities. Better protection of all communities is needed if Sri Lanka is to move forward from the traumas of the past and towards a peaceful future.’

Notes to editors:

  • Interview opportunities:

– Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications

– Partners in Sri Lanka available for interview upon request

  • The report Confronting intolerance: continued violations against religious minorities in Sri Lanka and an online map showing violations are available on MRG’s publications website.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, or request a copy of the report under embargo please contact MRG’s Press Office:

Emma Eastwood (London, UK)

T: +44 207 4224205

M: +44 7989699984

E: emma.eastwood@mrgmail.org

Twitter: @MinorityRights

Filed Under: Sri Lanka