'Essential to tackle hate campaigns, false narratives in Sri Lanka': Rights groups demand safety during state of Emergency

FP Staff

The communal violence in Sri Lanka's Teldeniya area that left two persons dead and forced the government to impose Emergency has prompted human rights groups to urge the authorities to ensure safety for all.

In a statement, the United Nations in Sri Lanka condemned the acts of violence "in the strongest possible terms". "The United Nations urges authorities to take immediate action against perpetrators and to ensure that appropriate measures are swiftly taken to restore normalcy in affected areas," the organisation said.

It further urged the authorities and citizens to ensure that "the rule of law is upheld, human rights are protected, and security and safety is ensured for all".

Sri Lankan police officers attempt to douse burning shops in Ambatenna, in central Sri Lanka. AP

Sri Lankan police officers attempt to douse burning shops in Ambatenna, in central Sri Lanka on Wednesday. AP

A regional network of human rights defenders, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), condemned the co-ordinated attacks on the Muslim community in Kandy district. "This follows an attack against Muslims in Ampara on 27 February, 2018, which injured several people and damaged shops and a mosque," it said in a statement.

SAHR noted that the civil society and international observers had repeatedly warned of a recurrence of racially-motivated violence "if strong steps are not taken to condemn ethno-religious hate groups." It said, "The pursuit of justice and accountability are non-negotiable if Sri Lanka is to end its vicious long cycle of ethno-religious violence and impunity."

Expressing disappointment over the lack of decisive leadership shown by both local and central government authorities, SAHR said that it was initial police inaction which allowed the escalation of violence.

"It took the heads of state over two days to publicly acknowledge and denounce the violence, by which time severe damage to property and the death of an innocent Muslim man had already occurred," the network said.

It also urged the leaders to maintain a "line of communication" with the public, to comfort vulnerable communities and call for inter-communal harmony, in the face of divisive rhetoric.

The SAHR further demanded that the police and security forces take swift measures to apprehend the perpetrators of the violence and defend innocent civilian lives and property. "(The) civil society must take necessary steps towards assisting the victims and suppress fear among the minorities. At this crucial moment, it is essential to tackle hate campaigns, false narratives, and rumours provoking racial sentiments at the grassroots and promote dialogue on peace, tolerance and coexistence," it said.

Following communal violence in the Buddhist-majority island nation, the government declared a 10-day state of Emergency on Tuesday.

Incidents of violence between Muslims and Buddhists continued for the third consecutive day, prompting the government to block popular social networking websites across the country and deploy around 600 troops in the central district of Kandy.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International had said that the authorities must respect human rights despite the state of Emergency.

"It is important that the authorities take action against mobs who have incited hatred and carried out acts of violence against religious minorities. They have a duty to protect vulnerable groups and hold the perpetrators accountable. But a state of emergency must not become a pretext for further human rights abuses," Amnesty International's South Asia director Biraj Patnaik had said.

In the wake of the Emergency, foreign governments, including the US and the UK, have asked their nationals visiting the island nation to "exercise caution, avoid protests and rallies, and comply with local security requirements".

UN under-secretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman will be visiting Sri Lanka this week. The UN spokesman said that Feltman will reach Colombo on Friday for a three-day tour and is also expected to visit Kandy.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: Emergency in Sri Lanka enters Day 2: Opposition slams govt for inaction; police and armed forces given more powers

Sri Lankan government assure increased security to Indian cricket team amid concerns of communal violence in country

Sri Lanka declares 10-day Emergency: President Sirisena says stern action against those spreading violence; Kandy remains tense

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