Sri Lanka is selectively implementing laws against religious minorities including using disproportionate response, and police seemed unsure to act when Buddhist monks broker the law, a UN Special Envoy said.
“Often, many described problems of double standards in law enforcement depending on which community offends or finds itself offended by the actions of other,” Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed told reporters in Colombo.
“I heard of cases of violence against minorities perpetrated by the majority community where perpetrators are clearly identified in video recordings but remain unaccountable for years after the incident,” he said.
“Reversely, many complained, that when a complaint is brought forward by members of the Buddhist community, action is swift and, at times, disproportionate.”
Sri Lanka is country where the majority follows Buddhism who are mostly identified as Sinhalese. Christians speak Sinhalese or Tamil. Muslims speak Sinhalese or Tamil or both. Many Tamils are either Hindu or Christian.
A law backed by the UN, the ICCPR law has also been used selectively against minorities. Some observers says it has provisions which can used in the way old blasphemy laws were used in Europe.
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Shaheed said that some persons were arrested under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act for trivial reasons that were deemed to provoke “religious disturbance”.
However, those who incited violence which led to the Aluthgama riots in 2014 are enjoying impunity.
The police were seen unsure on how to act when Buddhist monks violate laws, he said.
As Buddhism is given the highest standing in the constitution, and a Supreme Court ruling says that other religions are not provided the same right of state protection, the government is structurally incapable of giving other religions equal status, he said.
Buddhist monks have been allowed to erect shrines and statues in areas with little Buddhist presence, while minorities in some cases have not even been allowed to hold prayers in their private homes if situated in a majority dominated area, he said.
“Often, the Muslim communities and new Christian churches in particular faced a range of harassment and assaults.”
“The Muslim communities have faced increased hostility especially after the April bombings.”
“Prior impunity has strengthened the anti-Muslim groups.”
“Weak and un-coordinated responses to anti-Muslim violence have seen the rise in violence and attacks on individuals and the communities in some parts of the country.”
The state of emergency which had followed the Easter Sunday bombings by an extremist group had increased hate speech, violence against Muslims and distrust among religious communities, Shaheed said.
The government has also failed to recognize that religious extremism of any sort is an underlying problem in the country.
“Instead, they referred to ‘sporadic small incidents’.”
Shaheed called on the state to prosecute those responsible for religious violence.
He said that there are some positive developments on creating inter-faith harmony, including efforts of some parliamentarians, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation and district interreligious committees set up by religious leaders.