No report from Sri Lanka’s rights body on two years old anti-Muslim riots

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe


Sri Lanka’s national human rights watchdog is yet to release its report into investigations on anti-Muslim violence that ravaged the country’s highlands two years ago.

In March 2008 over a thousand Sinhalese accompanied by Buddhist monks went on a rampage in the neighbourhoods of the tourist city of Kandy despite a heavy police presence.

One man was killed, many injured and hundreds of properties, mosques and vehicles were destroyed in three days of attacks. Most of the violence was centred around Digana. Key figures caught on camera leading the riots were arrested later to be released on bail. No one has been brought to justice.

Role of the STF

Two months later, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka conducted a three-day investigation into the highland anti-Muslim riots. The Commission head Deepika Udagama announced at the time that the findings will be made public in July 2018.

The role of state officials in the riots came under scrutiny during the investigation, said Dr Udagama who did not elaborate.

"We were not attacked simply by some Sinhalese who had political backing. We, in fact told the Commission that even the members of Special Task Force (STF) attacked us" said Abdul Saleel Mohommed Fazeel, a United National Party representative of Medadumbara local government authority.

"We are now made to believe that the delay is deliberate. If not, why do they still sitting on the report even after two years?" he told JDS.

While government ministers had accused security force members of failing to protect Muslims from violence, JDS published video footage from the Digana Hijra Town mosque showing armed elite STF policemen assaulting Muslims.

Former minister Mohamed Haseem Abdul Haleem who was one of the accusers says that the government paid compensation for damaged property.

The involvement of security forces in the violence was brought to the attention of the UN Human rights commission meeting in Geneva.

In a special report to the commission the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief referred to earlier attacks against Aluthgama and Ampara Muslims in 2014 and 2017.

“In the instances of Aluthgama and Digana, police were accused of not taking action to prevent the hate campaigns,” said Special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. “Moreover, there were also reports of active participation by police officers in aiding the anti-Muslim riots in the past, though these reports have not been investigated.”

Dr Shaheed’s report does not contain any reference to Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission investigation.

© JDS

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.