8th March 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka: While the post-war context offered an opportunity for consolidating peace and reconciliation, and there have been a number of positive developments, there are increasing concerns relating to violence targeting places of worship and religious intolerance. Since the end of the war there have been high-profile incidents such as the attack on the Mosque in Dambulla in April 2012, however other incidents, have received little or no public and media attention. This has resulted in a limited understanding of the scale and nature of these incidents.
This report documents incidents of attacks on places of worship in Sri Lanka since the end of the war in May 2009 and discusses the broader context of such attacks. The report lists 65 cases of attacks on religious places of worship between May 2009 and January 2013. Direct attacks have been reported from all provinces of Sri Lanka, making clear that the threat is not restricted to particular areas. Most of the reported incidents were from the Western province (16), followed by the Eastern province (12), the Southern province (11) and the North-Western province (9).
Although the list cannot claim to be comprehensive, it offers a starting point to document attacks against places of worship of the four main religions practiced in the country. The lack of coverage by the media and other civil society groups, lack of consistent documentation by religious groups, and the cautiousness of religious and civil society groups to engage on this issue were key obstacles in the compiling of this list. This report attempts to address this information gap so as to provide a more comprehensive picture of the ground situation and thereby raise public awareness and increase the understanding of policy makers on this issue.
While the numbers do provide some sense of the scale of the violence, it is important to make distinctions in terms of the nature of violence in each of these incidents. The majority of these cases are against Christian places of worship, mostly against non-traditional churches and there are also a number of attacks on Muslim places of worship. The 65 attacks can be categorized into three main types: inter-communal attacks, intra-religious violence, and robbery.
In terms of inter-communal attacks the bulk of incidents where perpetrators have been identified, are instances of Sinhala Buddhist attacks on other religious communities’ places of worship. While in the majority of incidents the perpetrators have not been prosecuted and in a number of cases are unidentified, in others there are allegations against groups and individuals who are believed to be responsible. A significant proportion of the attacks incidents relating to Buddhist and Hindu religious places are cases of theft and vandalism. There have also been several incidents of intra-religious violence between denominations of all the religious communities apart from the Hindu community.
While a number of the incidents appear to be isolated, in a number of cases it is evident that the attacks on an individual religious place is sometimes preceded by other forms of violence, threats and intimidation against a religious community in a specific area. The report attempts to include some of these incidents, including violence against clergy, protests against religious practices and hate speech, in order to provide a context to the attacks. The continuing acts of violence against places of religious worship coupled with a culture of intolerance are threatening to undermine efforts to consolidate peace, emphasising the need for immediate action by all actors, especially the Government.