The United Nations today warned that if the climate of fear amongst Muslim groups in Sri Lanka is not addressed it is likely to cause an exodus of Muslims from the country.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed said that a recurrent complaint in Sri Lanka was the role of the media and social media in fomenting hatred and disinformation, the failure of the police to protect minority communities and the inability to hold perpetrators to account.
He said that the recurrence of such episodic violence has fostered a climate of fear amongst Muslim groups and if unaddressed, it is likely to cause an exodus of Muslims from the country.
In a report at the end of a 12-day mission to Sri Lanka, the UN Special Rapporteur said that the long-standing traditions of religious harmony and co-existence in Sri Lanka must be reinforced to address the challenges of the modern context of the country.
“This is characterised by growing politicisation of religion, polarisation of communities through segregated education based on ethno-religious identity, opening up of under regulated spaces for communication through privatised electronic media and spread of social media, simmering resentment against perceived majoritarian privilege, growing frustration over capricious law enforcement, and the spread of religious extremism,” he said.
Ahmed Shaheed said that State must prosecute those responsible for violence and incitement to violence, make efforts to dismantle the networks of hate, and facilitate access to justice to victims of hate crimes.
He also said that the State should develop systems and mechanisms to monitor and respond to hate speech in conformity with international human rights standards.
“The guidance provided by a number of tools developed by the UN system, notably the Rabat Plan of Action on responding to hate speech and the Fez Plan of Action on Responding to Incitement to Mass Atrocity Violence would be valuable for use in training law enforcement officials. These tools should also be disseminated to media persons, civil society actors, religious leaders and political leaders,” he said.
He called on Government leaders and religious leaders to speak out against hateful narratives and reject efforts to ostracise and stigmatise minority communities and persons in vulnerable situations.
The UN Special Rapporteur also said that the State should utilise the Beirut Declaration and its 18 Commitments on Faith for Rights in its activities designed to promote inter-religious dialogue.
Such dialogues, he says, must be inclusive with voluntary participation of all communities, bringing together not just religious leaders but religious actors that work to advance peacebuilding and human rights, including women and members of religious minorities and the non-religious.
He also noted that social media platforms should invest more in the ability to monitor and respond to incitement to violence while protecting freedom of expression and access to information. (Colombo Gazette)