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* Decrease in respect for religious freedom in Sri Lanka as extremists target religious minorities - Report
Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 09:38 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

July 29, Washington, DC: Although Sri Lanka's Constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom, there was an overall decrease in societal respect for religious freedom, as Buddhist nationalist groups led campaigns targeting Muslims and Christians, International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 released by the United States yesterday said.

The U.S. Report criticized the local authorities for failing to respond effectively to communal violence, including attacks on members of minority religious groups, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The 2013 International Religious Freedom Report released Monday by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor documents how, where and when the universal right to religious freedom was violated or protected in nearly 200 countries around the world.

The report noted that when governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs.

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) continued to promote its anti-Muslim campaign, which was linked to violent activities during the year.

Citing specific incidents where Buddhist groups attacked churches and mosques, the U.S. Report said societal discrimination and violence against religious minorities and attacks on churches and mosques increased markedly in 2013.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that senior and local government officials provided assistance to or, at a minimum, tacit support for the actions of societal groups targeting religious minorities.

Although members of different religious groups were generally tolerant of each otherís religious beliefs, there was evidence of growing distrust and fear, particularly on the part of religious minorities.

Local media and NGOs noted strong linkages between the BBS and the government. According to numerous reports, the BBS was behind a growing wave of anti-Muslim activities carried out by other violent Buddhist nationalist groups. Nationalist groups were allegedly involved in a series of attacks on mosques, protests over animal slaughter, and a sustained attempt to further marginalize Muslims by outlawing the halal system of meat certification.

Christian groups have reported at least 60 violent attacks led by Buddhist monks against Christians or churches during the year.

U.S. embassy officials in Colombo have regularly conveyed concerns about religious freedom to government leaders at the most senior levels, particularly about attacks on churches and mosques, and urged them to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, the Religious Freedom Report said.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials also have met frequently with representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups to discuss a wide range of religious freedom concerns.

The U.S. Embassy has encouraged interfaith efforts by religious leaders to promote reconciliation and has also undertaken several projects to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperative engagement, including interfaith panel discussions and workshops involving key regional religious leaders and several thousand participants.

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