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Impunity for individual anti-religious acts can lead to broad intolerance in Sri Lanka – UN expert

Impunity for individual anti-religious acts can lead to broad intolerance in Sri Lanka – UN expert

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Perpetrators of anti-religious violence are not being punished in Sri Lanka and this impunity could lead to religious intolerance, despite the present climate of tolerance on the Indian Ocean island, a United Nations human rights monitor said today.

Asma Jahangir, the UN Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, also said she had received credible second-hand reports of people being induced to change their religion by "improper means." She had heard allegations that faith-based organizations that brought humanitarian aid for the victims of last December's tsunami had tried to exploit the population's vulnerability.

On the question of impunity, she had received direct testimony over the past several years about violent acts of religious intolerance, such as the destruction or burning of places of worship belonging to different religious communities, especially churches, she said as she ended a fact-finding visit to Sri Lanka.

"I have noted that in most cases the perpetrators have not been brought to justice. Moreover, in many cases, the police and other competent authorities appear to have been reluctant to take appropriate actions despite the identification of perpetrators," she said.

"The inaction of the Government can only embolden the forces of intolerance and paralyzes rational voices. Inability to take appropriate and timely measures in arresting the rising trends of religious intolerance could make political as well as religious leaders hostage to the very few who take extreme positions."

The Government had the obligation to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate the victims, Ms. Jahangir said.

Meanwhile, new draft legislation would criminalize "unethical" conversions, Ms. Jahangir said, but they raised concerns under human rights law, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

With the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka having ruled that portions of one draft law were unconstitutional, she noted "with some satisfaction that there are in Sri Lanka independent mechanisms and pluralistic as well as democratic traditions." But she said enacting the bills could undermine the country's culture of religious tolerance.