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MRG strongly condemns violent attacks in Sri Lanka, calls on the government to ensure the safety of the country’s religious minorities

24 April 2019

As the death toll rises in what is being called the deadliest attack in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago, Minority Rights Group (MRG) strongly condemns the attacks on churches and hotels in the country, and expresses its condolences to the victims’ families, loved ones and those affected.

‘The tragic violence visited upon Sri Lanka’s Christian community this past Sunday is deeply troubling,’ says Shikha Dilawri, MRG’s South Asia Programme Coordinator. ‘Although religious minorities in the country have frequently suffered violence and discrimination, the nature of these targeted attacks is unprecedented’.

The death toll from the attacks has risen to 359 today, with an estimated 500 people injured. This figure continues to change. A local group known as National Thowheed Jamath is believed to be behind the attack, though ISIS has also claimed responsibility, albeit without providing evidence of its involvement.

Religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, have suffered targeted attacks in recent years at the hands of state and non-state actors. However, the violence perpetrated against Sri Lanka’s Christian community on Sunday is at a previously unseen scale and appears to have many different dimensions. This violence occurs against a continued backdrop of threat and hostility against religious minority communities, which poses a risk for tensions to further escalate.

‘While it is heartening to see support extended from various communities to those affected by Sunday’s violence, threats of reprisals against Muslims remains a serious concern’ says Dilawri. Just over a year ago, in February 2018, anti-Muslim violence took place in the eastern town of Ampara, followed by riots against Muslims in early March in Kandy, Central Province.

The immediate emphasis must lie on effective short-term measures to guard against further attacks, apprehending those responsible, providing relief to the affected families, and safeguarding against mass reprisals. In the long term however, such atrocities must be addressed through measures which deal with enduring issues of impunity, as well as efforts to promote inclusion and reconciliation across religious and ethnic divisions.

‘The Government of Sri Lanka must take measures to hold perpetrators to account and support victims. However, it is critical that they avoid a heavy-handed response which associates perpetrators with any particular community’, says Dilawri. ‘Without such levels of restraint, they risk escalating the tensions and vulnerability experienced by Sri Lanka’s religious minorities’.

Notes to editors

  • Read the report Confronting intolerance: Continued violations against religious minorities in Sri Lanka and this online map showing violations.
  • Read MRG’s press release about the outbreak of religious violence against Muslims last year.
  • Read MRG’s statement about Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organisation 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
  • Visit MinorMatters, a public movement dedicated to protecting the rights and liberties of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka. It seeks to raise awareness on issues surrounding religious freedom, and to support and empower efforts to advance justice and national coexistence.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact MRG’s Press Office on [email protected].

Photo: A view of St. Sebastian’s Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. Credit: AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne