International news

Muslims, made homeless after two days of anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka's tourist region of Alutgama, demonstrate against radical Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) at a makeshift camp in Beruwala, about 58 kms south of capital Colombo on 18 June.UN SECRETARY-GENERAL Ban Ki-moon has called on the Sri Lankan government to "take necessary measures" to prevent any further attacks against minority Muslims in the country.

Asked to respond to reports of violence there, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told IPS "the secretary-general is concerned about reported attacks against Muslim communities in southern Sri Lanka".

The Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America (TASMinA), which held a protest rally outside the United Nations last week, has sought intervention by the secretary-general.

"We kindly request you to intervene and ask the Sri Lankan government to prevent hatred and violence against Muslims and other minority communities in Sri Lanka, and bring the perpetrators of the recent murders and violence to justice," says a letter addressed to the secretary-general.

In a statement released Wednesday, three UN human rights experts called on Sri Lanka "to adopt urgent measures to stop the promotion of racial and faith-based hatred, and violence against Muslim and Christian communities by Buddhist groups with extremist views, and bring perpetrators of this violence to justice.

"More than 350 violent attacks against Muslims and over 150 attacks against Christians have been reported in Sri Lanka in the last two years. Muslim and Christian communities are reportedly subjected to hate speech, discrimination, attacks and acts of violence throughout Sri Lanka frequently," the statement added. Asked for a response, Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS, "Sri Lanka can ill afford any inter-racial or inter-religious conflict at this stage, especially at a time the country is recovering from 27 years of terrorist-inspired violence."

"While inter-racial and inter-religious intolerance is not unique to Sri Lanka, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has unequivocally condemned the recent violence in the country," he said.

Kohona also promised that justice will be meted out to the wrongdoers.

"We must also address our problems ourselves and seek solutions from within and resist the ready temptation to seek outside interventions to address essentially domestic issues," he said.

David Griffiths, deputy Asia Pacific director at Amnesty International, told IPS the London-based human rights organisation "is extremely concerned about the upsurge in violence against religious minorities in Sri Lanka and the impunity with which these attacks are taking place.

"We have received hundreds of reports of threats and attacks on Christians and Muslims and their places of worship in the past two years," he added.

These have often been led by members of hard-line Buddhist groups with apparent links to government officials and none of them have been adequately investigated, he said.

Most Sri Lankans, including the overwhelming Buddhist majority, want nothing to do with the Bodu Balu Sena (BBS), which is accused of instigating the violence, the Times said.

Rita Izsk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, told IPS she was "extremely concerned over the situation in Sri Lanka and what seems to be a pattern of attacks emerging over recent months".

She urged the government to act decisively to bring targeted violence against religious minorities to an end as soon as possible. Concrete actions are required to address impunity, she added. "The Penal Code must be amended so that hate speech and incitement of hatred can be prohibited and punished."

"While I am encouraged by comments from the government that action will be taken to investigate incidents of violence and that the President is appointing a High-Level Panel to inquire into recent disturbances, as he says, this must be swift and independent in order to gain the confidence of affected communities".

In his letter to Ban, Najaf Jamsheed, president of TASMiNA said: "We believe Buddhism is peaceful and non-violent. We respect Buddhism and we love Sri Lanka – our motherland".

The letter says that while TASMiNA is sincerely grateful to President Rajapaksa for taking personal responsibility to ensure that the victims of last month's anti-Muslim riots are taken care of and compensated for their losses and that those responsible for their suffering are brought to justice, "we strongly urge the government of Sri Lanka to counter perceptions that it supports the activities of organisations like the BBS."

Thalif Deen – IPS