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Discriminatory, violent rhetoric goes unpunished in Sri Lanka: UN official

Discriminatory, violent rhetoric goes unpunished in Sri Lanka: UN official
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Discriminatory and violent rhetoric, particularly by the majority community, frequently goes unpunished in Sri Lanka

Colombo : Discriminatory and violent rhetoric, particularly by the majority community, frequently goes unpunished in Sri Lanka, a top UN official has said as he expressed concern over the growing hate speech incidents in the wake of the Easter Sunday attacks that killed 258 people.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly Clement Nyaletsossi Voule urged the political leadership not to dismiss people's desire for freedom, the rule of law or undermine democracy.

Voule said while the country's Constitution protects the rights to both freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, however, the application of a number of laws jeopardised those rights, including sections of the penal code, the ICCPR Act as well as the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

"It has been brought to my attention that these laws are frequently being applied in a discriminatory manner against those people organising around specific issues such as disappearances, land rights, livelihood and access to resources, and development projects," Voule said.

The official told reporters here on Friday that the Vagrants Ordinance, in particular, was being used to target LGBTI community.

He expressed concern over the growing incidents of hate speech since the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 258 people and injured hundreds others. "While legislation is in place to combat hate speech, .... the legislation is not applied with an even hand.

Discriminatory and violent rhetoric, particularly by members of the majority community frequently goes unpunished," Voule said. He said the social media was accessed to fan the flames of hatred and spread misinformation.

The elections due later this year may hinder the progress made on establishing the rule of law, Voule said.

"This is a serious threat to the existence of a respectful and peaceful dialogue among sectors of society, an essential element for any representative democracy," Voule said.

Sri Lanka's next presidential election must be held before December 8 while elections for the 9 provincial councils have also fallen due. Nine suicide bombers attacked three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21 in one of Sri Lanka's worst terror attacks.

The ISIS terror group claimed the attacks, but the government blamed the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) for the bombings.

In the wake of the bombings, majority Sinhala community mobs attacked Muslim-owned properties in towns north of the capital killing one Muslim man and leaving hundreds of homes, shops and mosques vandalised.

The Muslim ministers quit their posts after two Muslim provincial governors resigned Monday after thousands of people, including majority Buddhist community monks, launched a protest in the pilgrim city of Kandy, demanding their sacking for allegedly supporting Islamist extremists responsible for the Easter suicide bombings.

Muslims account for 10 per cent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven per cent of Sri Lankans are Christians.

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