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HRC37 – MRG urges Sri Lanka to address violence against Muslims

14 March 2018

UN Human Rights Council

37th session

General Debate – item 4 (Situations deserving the attention of the Council)

Thank you Mister President,

Minority Rights Group would like to draw the attention of the Council to the outbreak of religious violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka over the last couple of weeks.

Following anti-Muslim violence at the end of February in the eastern town of Ampara, riots broke out on 5 March in Kandy, Central province. According to reports, one person has been killed, a mosque attacked and a number of Muslim-owned businesses set ablaze. Several individuals have been arrested in relation to the events.

The Sri Lankan government has condemned the ‘racist and violent attacks’ and the President has imposed a state of emergency in the country in an attempt to stop the violence from spreading. However, given the history of religious unrest on the island, MRG is highly concerned for the minority Muslim community, who account for around 10 percent of the population.

As documented in a recent MRG report, these events are part of a wider series of targeted attacks against Muslims since the end of the war in 2009, which have escalated with the emergence of Buddhist nationalist movements in 2012. MRG says that incidents of violence and hate campaigns on social media are now routine, and have frequently been met with impunity on the part of state actors, further emboldening the perpetrators.

While recent statements made by state officials condemning the violence and calling for action are welcome, what is now needed is swift and decisive action to secure accountability and assure Muslims that they will be protected under the law. This must include the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators of this violence, including those responsible for spreading hate speech.

We urge the Sri Lankan authorities to apply the full force of the law to those responsible for the attacks. The government, religious leaders and law enforcement must show clear commitment to address ethno-religious violence, take active steps to build more inclusive communities, and work harder to ensure protection of the rights of all religious communities in the country if Sri Lanka is to move towards a more peaceful and sustainable future.