“While the Government promptly brought the situation more or less under control after the bomb blasts, many religious communities remain very concerned about their security because of incitement to hatred and violence by some religious extremists,” UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed said speaking to media at the end of his 12-day mission to the country.
During his mission, Shaheed met Government officials, visited the north, east, central and northwest parts of the country holding meetings with representatives of ethnic and religious communities and civil society organisations.
“The Government must take action against the hate propaganda targeting Muslim communities that is being spread through unregulated media and is instigating ethno-religious tension for political gain.
“Failure by the State to take action to address incitement to hatred and violence will allow extremism to escalate and pose serious challenges to peace-building. The ethno-religious tension must not be treated as mere sporadic incidents; the underlying unease and hostility existed long before the Easter attacks and subsequent violence.
“It is time for Sri Lanka to vigorously adopt measures to protect the rights of all people and to hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of their ethno-religious background.
“Women’s experiences of ethno-religious hostility including violence, displacement and stereotyping must also be effectively addressed.
“There is a need for sustainable intercommunal and interreligious dialogue for trust and peacebuilding as well as reconciliation. Space must be provided for moderate voices, for concerns to be flagged and for grievances to be addressed.
“I have seen encouraging initiatives by different State institutions, civil society organisations and religious leaders on the issues of reconciliation and promotion of peaceful coexistence.
“However, freedom of religion or belief is not about religious tolerance alone, it is about the right of each individual to be treated equally in their choice to believe or not to believe, and whether to manifest it in private or in public,” the UN official highlighted.
Shaneed called on the Government and all others to create an enabling environment for the exercise of fundamental freedoms, in the lead-up to elections and not to use ethno-religious tensions for electoral gain.
The Special Rapporteur presented a report on his visit and further he will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020.