A top UN human rights official has voiced deep alarm at the communal violence in south-western Sri Lanka and expressed concern that the turmoil could spread to other parts of the country. “The government must urgently do everything it can to arrest this violence, curb the incitement and hate speech which is driving it, and protect all religious minorities”, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said.
She voiced her deep alarm at the violence in which several people have been killed and scores injured. The violence erupted yesterday in the town of Aluthgama following a large rally of the Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to protest an alleged assault a few days earlier by a Muslim youth against a monk visiting the local temple. After the rally, violence erupted on both sides as the BBS and its supporters moved in procession through Muslim neighbourhoods, allegedly chanting anti-Muslim slogans, the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR) said in a statement.
Homes, shops and mosques were reportedly attacked and some set ablaze. Despite a curfew and deployment of approximately 1,200 police, violence apparently continued into the night, it said. “I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country” said Pillay. “The authorities must immediately bring the perpetrators of such attacks to book and make it clear to the religious leadership on both sides, and to political parties and the general public, that there is no place for inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to violence.
“At the same time, the security forces must use appropriate measures to contain the situation and ensure this tragic situation is not compounded by any excessive use of force” she added. During her August 2013 visit to Lanka, and in her subsequent reports to the UN Human Rights Council, Pillay warned about the rising level of attacks against religious minorities and the incitement of violence by Buddhist groups.
OHCHR noted that while the Sri Lankan government had promised amendments to enhance existing laws with regard to hate speech, these have yet to be adopted. The Human Rights Council in March 2014 expressed alarm at the significant surge in attacks against members of religious minority groups in Lanka, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
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A top Obama administration official also urged the Lankan government to investigate the violence and bring the perpetrators to justice. “We urge the authorities in SL (Sri Lanka) to investigate these attacks and bring those responsible to justice” Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal wrote last night on Twitter.