The concerns stemmed from the behavior of two Buddhist monks in the North and East over the past two weeks.
The two monks had behaved in an aggressive manner, one towards a Tamil district officer and the other towards the police.
Human rights groups urged the government to arrest the situation before it goes out of control and make clear their policy.
“Sri Lanka’s government, through the Geneva resolution, has committed itself to accountability and reconciliation. The authorities have an obligation to make clear that inflammatory remarks such as those we have heard in recent days have no place in a culture committed to these principles,” Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Brad Adams told The Sunday Leader.
Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, Champa Patel told The Sunday Leader there was a disturbing increase in intolerance and hate speech in many parts of the world and it was essential that governments stand against hate and genuinely demonstrate their commitment to protect the human rights of everyone in all communities.
“Law enforcement is essential when people’s safety is at risk, but equally freedom of peaceful expression must also be respected. Sri Lanka has undertaken a very important and ambitious program aimed at improving human rights protection and accountability for all Sri Lankans. Amnesty International strongly supports these efforts and urges the government to resist forces of hate that seek to obstruct them,” Patel said.
President of the Global Tamil Forum, Father S.J. Emmanuel said that there are many threats to reconciliation in Sri Lanka from all sides, and from all levels of leaders.
“The Buddhist clergy, with a unique consciousness of a Sri Lankan Buddhism, based on Mahavamsa mentality, limit their preaching of the Buddahs wisdom and emotionally take up to a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism which sees Sri Lanka as theirs for possession and protection. The present national flag explains it well – we are a Sinhala-Buddhist nation, protected by Buddhism and we threaten all dangers to this from the outside, where there are two stripes, representing the minorities. This has been, not only the preaching of the clergy, but also made use of by all Sinhala politicians,” he said.
Father Emmanuel said that whoever comes forward to be leaders, must protect and defend Sri Lanka, according to this mindset.
“And this has succeeded for many decades. Now for reconciliation, we need not only constitutional changes and laws respecting and protecting the rights of all, but a deep change of understanding, vision and mentality. This monumental challenge cannot be faced only by the top leaders, who only wish and appeal for a change. For a change of mentality especially in the south, the Buddhist clergy is crucial. Except for a few monks like Sobitha, the majority will not easily budge. The think that Tamils and the international community are against their sovereign ownership and SB nationalism. As I often told the present President and the Foreign minister, the active cooperation of all religious and civic leaders must be sought in educating the majority for a change of attitude and mentality,” he said.
Father Emmanuel said that even Christians, having a strategy of mediating between the two sides, are not doing enough for reconciliation.
Hence, he says individual Buddhist monks or Tamils can get emotionally worked up and ruin relations. He says the government has to control the feelings of the military and the monks at the same time.
Media Minister Gayantha Karunatillake said that cabinet had last week discussed the recent incidents after it was brought to the notice of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Karunatillake said that those incidents will be dealt with under the law. Also last week the the Secretary of the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamath, Abdul Razik was arrested and remanded till November 29.
Razik was arrested on the charges of inciting religious disharmony by speaking against other religions in an offensive manner during a protest campaign held in Maligawatte on November 3.
The Sri Lanka Thawheed Jamaath (SLTJ) recently protested against the government’s decision to amend the controversial Muslim Personal Law in order to comply with international conventions on women and children rights.
SLTJ charged that the government is changing the law accepting the conditions set by the European Union to grant the GSP+ facility back.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the IGP, a group of civil society members said that they are outraged by the blatant Police inaction and the complacency of the State towards the culture of impunity which prevails around the continuing trend of Buddhist monk-led violent attacks on ethnic and religious numerical minorities.
“While the Sri Lankan Constitution clearly guarantees all citizens the right to equality, non-discrimination and freedom of religion and religious worship, the number of attacks against religious and ethnic numerical minorities across Sri Lanka, by ethno-nationalist majoritarian groups, typically led by one or more Buddhist monks, remains unchecked. Civil society groups have consistently documented and reported such attacks to relevant authorities. However, charges have never been brought against the perpetrators, despite the conduct of these monks being in clear violation of hate-speech and anti-discrimination protections under Sri Lankan law,” the letter addressed to the IGP said.
The letter also notes that the venerable Gnanasara thero of the Bodu Bala Sena has threatened a ‘bloodbath’ in protest over the arrest of Prasad (alias Dan Priyasad), a self-proclaimed “Saviour of the Sinhalese”.
In June this year, he made a public declaration at a rally in Mahiyanganaya, that they could at any time re-enact the Aluthgama violence (this was in reference to the anti-Muslim riots in 2014 in which four persons were killed, 80 injured, and approximately 10,000 displaced). This speech was documented and the video was widely shared online. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) filed a written complaint to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) regarding the incident and requested immediate action. However, to our knowledge, no action has been taken against Gnanasara himi to date.
“Recently, another video of a Buddhist monk, identified as Ampitiye Sumangala Himi, Chief Incumbent of the Mangalaramaya Temple, in Batticaloa, has gone viral on the internet. The video shows the monk using extreme racist expletives and abusive language to verbally assault and threaten a Tamil public servant (Grama Sevaka (GS)) in the presence of a uniformed police officer. The police officer in question stood by and observed the attack without taking the necessary action to protect the public servant or stop the Buddhist monk. When the police officer finally stepped in, he did so in a seemingly hesitant and fearful manner,” the letter added.
A joint civil society submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2016, documented 132 incidents faced by Christians and 141 incidents against the Muslims, in a span of one year, since 2015. These incidents include attacks on places of religious worship, and numerical minority religious communities being disrupted during times of worship and prayer. The Sri Lanka Campaign, in an article published in May 2016, states: “no prosecutions have yet been brought against Buddhist extremists implicated in previous attacks on Christians or Muslims. In particular the inability and unwillingness of the authorities to take action in investigating the murder of Muslims in the course of the 2014 riots continues to feed concerns that the Government is not taking the issue of Buddhist extremism seriously enough.”
Civil society organizations said they are deeply frustrated and angered by the sheer lack of will from the State in actively and publicly condemning this kind of racist rhetoric and hate-speech, and taking immediate legal action against perpetrators.
They said the Police should move immediately to bring to justice all those in violation of Sri Lanka’s anti-discrimination and hate-speech laws, including Buddhist monks.
Members of the civil society called on the government to seriously consider the impact and influence such groups that propagate hate-speech and threats of violence against ethnic and religious numerical minorities have on the general public, by way of creating a dangerously permissible environment for civilians to act in a similar manner, without fear of consequence. minorities have on the general public, by way of creating a dangerously permissible environment for civilians to act in a similar manner, without fear of consequence.