A multiplicity of racist attacks are erupting in different parts of the country and affecting different ethnic and religious communities.
The widespread and systematic attacks against members of the Muslim community are insidious and low profile. They are individual attacks on commercial establishments and mosques that are sometimes reported in the media and sometimes not. It appears that this is a testing ground where extremist groups are testing the space for racism. Violent extremists pose a security threat; it is naturally, yet not exclusively, the responsibility of the government to respond to ensure the safety of all its citizens. This involves the mobilization of law enforcement agencies to enable the state to tackle the root causes of violent extremism, to create societal buy-in across diverse stakeholders toward a common goal, and to demonstrate the respect for both the rule of law and equality of all citizens. The danger is that left unchecked by deterrent governmental action they will lead to a buildup and erupt in an unpredictable way.
A similar phenomenon has been taking place in regard to sections of the Christian community. Here too the attacks are widespread and systematic and yet insidious and low profile. President Maithripala Sirisena has said various attempts are being made through the internet and some media institutions, to spread civil unrest among communities in the country. The state media reported the President saying “that when he asked the Colombo Archbishop, Most Rev.Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, regarding a statement made by a person during an interview with a private news channel that 166 Catholic churches were attacked during the past few months, the Archbishop of Colombo said no such incidents have been not reported. The President further said that he vehemently rejects such kind of statements made by some persons misleading society with ulterior objectives in mind.” The news item in a private news channel that Catholic Churches were attacked either smacks of ignorance or willful distortion of facts.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is a representative of the Catholic community and has spoken as such. However, there are also a minority of non-Catholic Christians who feel threatened and under siege. We regret that the distinction between Catholic and non Catholic Christian has not been made. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka has reported that 111 incidents took place in 2014, 90 in 2015, 89 in 2016, and another 36 incidents in 2017 so far. The report said that although these figures reflect a slight decline in the overall number of reported incidents, notably the number of incidents involving state officials has increased. In this context the National Peace Council is dismayed that the Hon. Minister of Justice had threatened to remove Attorney-at-Law Lakshan Dias for highlighting incidents of religious violence as recorded by the National Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka and presented by him in a talk show. Mr Lakshan Dias is a leading lawyer and a committed human rights defender who has been engaged in civil society activism for over two decades. He is a member of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and many local and regional human rights groups. He has appeared for many fundamental rights violation cases on a pro-bono basis on behalf of marginalized and underprivileged people and also in many cases representing the victims of religious hate crimes against the Christian and Muslim communities in the country. We note that it is only the Supreme Court that is empowered to remove lawyers.
The National Peace Council calls for the protection of all and the upholding of Fundamental Rights enshrined in the constitution that give to all religions, big and small, the same rights of equality and freedom of propagation. The impunity that is currently available to those who attack minority religious groups is an enormous danger to society at large as it heralds the breakdown of the Rule of Law. We are pleased to note that in the past few days the police have acted and arrested several persons for engaging in hate crimes. We urge the leaders of all religions and civil society to stand together, displaying a shared interest, to insist to the government that the Rule of Law is sacrosanct, and must prevail, or else we fear that what Sri Lanka collectively sows will be collectively reaped.