South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, vehemently condemns the co-ordinated attacks on the Sri Lankan Muslim community in Kandy that has claimed a life, and caused the destruction of numerous mosques, homes and Muslim-owned businesses. This follows an attack against Muslims in Ampara on 27 February 2018, which injured several people and damaged shops and a mosque.
SAHR notes with regret that Sri Lankan civil society and international observers have repeatedly warned of a recurrence of racially motivated violence if strong steps are not taken to condemn ethno-religious hate groups. 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.
According to news reports, a Sinhalese truck driver was assaulted by a group of Muslim men over a personal dispute in Teldeniya on 22 February 2018. The victim was admitted to hospital but succumbed to his injuries on 3 March and the offenders were arrested by the Police. Anti-Muslim violence, reportedly carried out by outsiders, erupted in the late evening of 4 March in Teldeniya and since has spread to neighbouring areas in Kandy.
SAHR is deeply concerned and disappointed by the lack of decisive leadership shown by both local and central government authorities in quelling the spread of violence in the district, despite the imposition of a police curfew in the administrative district of Kandy. It is concerned by initial police inaction which has 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.
In the above context, SAHR urges government leaders to maintain a line of communication with the public, in order to comfort vulnerable communities and call for inter-communal harmony, in the face of divisive rhetoric. It advocates police and security forces to take swift measures to apprehend the perpetrators of racist violence and defend innocent civilian lives and property. SAHR believes that 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.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights