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* Religious freedom situation in Sri Lanka should be focus of concern - US agency
Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 10:30 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Apr 30, Washington, DC: A United States federal agency has recommended that the State Department should focus its concern on the religious freedom situation in Sri Lanka as hostility against religious minorities escalated during the last year.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal advisory body the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) created to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, in its 2014 annual report released today said the agency is increasingly concerned about the religious freedom situation in Sri Lanka.

The report said in the last year there have been numerous attacks against religious minority communities, including Muslims, Hindus, and Christians, by extremist Buddhist monks and laity affiliated with Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and Sinhala Ravaya.

The USCIRF has received multiple reports that government officials and police did not stop religiously-motivated attacks and in some cases participated in them, did not provide adequate protection for minority communities, and even harassed religious minority communities at their houses of worship.

Describing the hostilities against religious minorities, the USCIRF report said the BBS frequently makes public derogatory statements about religious minorities, calls for bans on Muslim head scarves and halal slaughter, urges Buddhists not to do business with religious minorities, and demands the adoption of an anti-conversion law.

NGOs and various religious communities have asserted that it is BBS policy to incite Buddhist Monks and laity to violence.

According to the report, the BBS is alleged to have close political and financial ties to the government.

USCIRF has monitored Sri Lanka between 2006 and 2010, and noted that dozens of religiously-motivated attacks occurred during the last reporting year, with authorities rarely making arrests or initiating prosecutions.

USCIRF 2014 Annual Report categorizes the countries into three groups- Tier 1or CPCs, Tier 2 countries, and other countries and regions.

CPCs are those countries, whose governments, according to the USCIRF, engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious.

For the 2014 Annual Report, USCIRF recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan as CPCs.

Tier 2, are countries where the violations perpetrated or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the "systematic, ongoing, and egregious" standard, but do not fully meet the CPC standard.

The report included Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey in the "Tier 2" list.

However, Sri Lanka was neither included in the category of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) nor in Tier 2 countries but included as a country to monitor along with Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, and Western Europe.

The USCIRF recommends the U.S. in on-going engagement with the Sri Lankan government to press the government to allow for a transparent and independent investigation into alleged 2009 war crimes as it relates to targeted attacks on religious minorities.

Among other recommendations made are to ensure a portion of humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka is used to help protect religious or ethnic minorities who have been or are likely targets of religious-motivated violence; train local government officials, police officers and judges on international religious freedom standards and on how to investigate and to fairly adjudicate violent attacks when they occur; and urge government officials to frequently and publically denounce religiously-motivated harassment and violence.

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