The Sri Lankan government has imposed a state of emergency after anti-Muslim riots have spread in parts of the country. Tensions have been brewing for months, so why has the government been slow to act?
The Sri Lankan government has imposed a state of emergency in Sri Lanka following a spike of ongoing anti-Muslim attacks in the towns of Teldeniya, Ampara, Digana and Kandy which have so far resulted in the killing of one man and arson against Muslim homes and businesses. The latest rounds of violence were triggered when Muslim men were accused of killing a man belonging to the majority Sinhala Buddhist community.
Frustratingly, the Sri Lankan government has been deafeningly silent and slow to respond to the riots which have been building for days, and at the time of writing this the president had still not made a statement regarding the widespread violence.
Video footage that was sent to me from the ground shows that not even one police officer was present at any of the scenes of the riots, with Muslim owned houses, businesses and mosques were burning. Where was the police and army to put a stop to it?
As a British Muslim with Sri Lankan heritage it pains me to hear that my relatives have been unable to sleep because they are scared that they will be attacked while they sleep. A 24-year-old Muslim boy has died due to his house being set alight overnight and he managed to save his parents and sibling but could not save himself.
Leaders and authorities in the country need to ensure that immediate efforts are made and action is taken against those inciting hate and those wanting to cause divisions among a peace-loving community.
If the government does not seek to ensure that accountability and justice is met then how can they expect minority Muslims in the country to remain calm in an already destructive environment of hate posed against them?
Ten percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million are Muslim. The majority are Sinhalese Buddhist, while most Tamils are Hindu and most ordinary citizens have lived peacefully with one another in the country. However, many citizens blame the government for allowing the situation to escalate and cause further division and destruction.
Tensions flared up last year in May 2017 when the hard-line group Bodu Bala Sena’s (BBS) General-Secretary Galagoda Atte Gnanasara encouraged his supporters to lead another campaign against Muslims following the deadly Aluthgama riots in June 2014, which attempted to create a rift between Buddhists and Muslims.
President Maithripala Siresena had promised to investigate anti-Muslim hate crimes after assuming power in 2015, however, attacks have escalated yet again and are spurring intense tensions and concerns amongst the Sri Lankan community and those who are worrying about their loved ones in the country.
Human Rights Watch underlined the importance of accountability stating that, “Justice for serious crimes under international law — which include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture — is crucial. Accountability brings redress to the victims and signals that heinous abuses will not be tolerated.”
This statement is valid in summing up the need to take action against those who commit crimes against humanity and those who threaten peaceful coexistence in a country that has already been through its fair share of conflict and turmoil.
At this point in time the government is not doing enough for the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka and more needs to be done to not just condemn the violence but to also protect its citizens.
It is therefore time for the Sri Lankan government to step up and fulfil the promises made to its diverse minorities. Sri Lanka’s Muslims contribute heavily to the social fabric of the country, as do all other citizens from various faiths that have lived harmoniously with one another.
Ensuring stability for all citizens is a must in order to create better interfaith understanding and harmony. Otherwise, Sri Lanka will just be another example of a Buddhist majority country driven to discrimination and crimes against its Muslim citizens.
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