Sri Lanka’s Agony

'The New York Times' editorial, June 27, 2014

Hate-mongering Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka have set off the country’s worst wave of anti-Muslim violence in years. A bloody rampage on June 15 in and near the southern city of Aluthgama left four Muslims dead, at least 78 people injured, and Muslim homes and businesses destroyed. The attacks followed an anti-Muslim rally organized by the Bodu Bala Sena, which roughly translates as Buddhist Power Force, an ultranationalist group linked to the governing Rajapaksa family. Tensions remain high.

This latest round of attacks against one of Sri Lanka’s minority communities underscores the urgent need to shed a bright light on the relationship between the hard-line Bodu Bala Sena, Sri Lankan security forces and the Rajapaksas.

Following global condemnation of his government’s inability to rein in the Bodu Bala Sena and prevent the June 15 attacks, President Mahinda Rajapaksa toured the afflicted area, while his government promised the United Nations Human Rights Council that it would conduct an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice. Whether it will do so is an open question in view of its refusal to allow an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses during the recent civil war as called for in a resolution by the council on March 27.

The president has good reason to be concerned — and to act. Among other things, the violence threatens Sri Lanka’s recovering tourism industry and business development directly tied to members of his family. The violence elicited rare criticism in Sri Lanka’s press of the government’s failure to protect the Muslim minority. And Sri Lanka’s justice minister, one of the country’s most senior Muslim officials, Rauf Hakeem, publicly lamented the government’s failure to prevent the attacks.

Most Sri Lankans, including the overwhelming Buddhist majority, want nothing to do with the Bodu Balu Sena. Sri Lanka needs healing. Mr. Rajapaksa’s statements on Monday directing the police to act against any individual or group fomenting ethnic or religious hatred are welcome. But the president did not repudiate the Bodu Bala Sena by name. He should move immediately to allow the independent investigation called for by the United Nations; accept the technical assistance offered by the council to address human rights concerns; and put in place the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission for dealing with the aftermath of the civil war.

Only these tangible steps will allow Sri Lanka to move forward toward reconciliation and justice for all Sri Lankans.

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  1. Srivanamoth

    Doubt very much the contents of the last para will be acceptable to government as it fails the ‘election test’! That is moving against violators and their agents, especially monks, is fraught with dire electoral and even personal consequences such as what happened to the ‘father of the Sinhala Only policy’ in 1958.