UN Special Rapporteur is one sided – SL Govt.

The Government yesterday told the Human Rights Council (HRC) that the violence which occurred in the aftermath of the Easter attacks was not communally motivated but caused by “unruly elements” and emphasised that citizens were able to freely practise their religion under Constitutional safeguards.

Delivering a statement at the Interactive Dialogue of the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, the Government responded to the report submitted by the Special Rapporteur (SR) on freedom of religion or belief who undertook a visit to Sri Lanka on 2 March 2020.

“The GoSL wishes to reiterate that the State possesses credible agencies, the capacity and the necessary legal framework to address issues of concern. Sri Lanka remains committed to protecting and promoting the freedom of conscience and religion of all its people, in accordance with the Constitution of the country.”

In the statement, the Government recapped the steps taken by security forces to restore calm after the devastating Easter Sunday attacks and improve confidence in national security.

“The incidents of mob violence that occurred three weeks after the terrorist attacks were not communally motivated but caused by unruly elements. These mobs were efficaciously neutralised by the Government through a number of arrests and by bringing to justice alleged perpetrators. The country fast returned to normalcy, reassuring the safety and security of all Sri Lankans and visitors to the country. The security forces of Sri Lanka merit particular commendation for their prompt and professional action in this regard,” the statement released by the Foreign Relations Ministry said.

Therefore, the Government said it rejected the inaccurate references in the SR’s report to “serious concerns” regarding the “Sri Lankan security forces colluding with mobs and not acting to prevent or stop the violence”; the “lack of response from the authorities against this violence”; and the claims that “acts of violence are indulged by the silence and inaction from the authorities”.

“It is regrettable that these inaccurate accounts have been included in the report, even after they have been fully rebutted and explained by the Government soon after the alleged incidents. It is also regrettable that the report has sought to portray instances where criminal investigations have been conducted to prevent acts of terrorism in accordance with the law, as an endeavour to violate the freedom of religion or belief.”

The statement added that the Government decision to temporarily ban the burqa and other head garments was a measure under the Emergency Regulations aimed at preventing the concealment of identity, in view of the imminent security threat that existed at the time.

In this regard, the Government pointed out that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[1] itself has permitted limitations by law to the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs for the purposes of protecting public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

“Sri Lanka also categorically rejects the inaccurate assertion in the report that the ICCPR Act has not been applied to protect minorities but has become a ‘repressive tool’ curtailing freedom of religion or belief. In this regard, we wish to point out that since its enactment in 2007, to date 90% of the suspects who were arrested under the ICCPR Act have been from the majority Sinhala community.”

With regard to comments made in the report about alleged discrimination based on “supremacy” of Buddhism over other religions, the Government highlighted that Article 9 the Constitution requires the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana while assuring all religions the rights granted under the Constitution.

“No provision in Sri Lanka’s Constitution or national laws permits discrimination of an individual based on religion or belief in any sphere of public life. On the contrary, Article 12 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.

The Government also said the report had failed to adequately discuss the drivers and root causes of radicalisation of youth from one particular religious community to the extent of engaging in acts of terrorism, and appears to lack inputs from a broader spectrum of Sri Lankan society, including family members of victims and suspects, as well as other neutral groups. In describing attacks against and desecration of places of worship, the report has failed to refer to incidents of attacks on and vandalising of Buddhist places of worship and instances of obstruction of Buddhist devotes in certain areas of the country, it charged.

The report also fails to adequately address positive measures undertaken by the Government and law enforcement agencies to foster religious harmony, such as addressing extremist elements on all sides, payment of compensation through the Office for Reparations to victims of violence, and setting up of mechanisms such as an Inter-Religious Council, the Government added.

“It is unfortunate that the resilience and solidarity of Sri Lankans protecting and assisting fellow citizens of all faiths in the aftermath of 21 April, as demonstrated by Buddhists and Christians guarding Muslims at prayer, renovation of damaged property and restoration of damaged churches by the security forces, have not been reflected in the report. Nor has the laudable role played by the independent institutions of Sri Lanka, such as the Human Rights Commission, during this challenging period, received the attention that it warrants,” it added.

Even though the report noted that the “school curriculum should be designed to include human rights education”, the Government said human rights education is already part of the national curriculum in schools. There are a number of co-curricular programs and activities being planned and delivered at various levels, including at schools, to foster greater understanding amongst schoolchildren from different communities and religions, the Government added.

 

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