Sri Lanka declares state of emergency

Following tensions arising between the Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim communities in Digana, Kandy district, the Sri Lankan government issued a 10-day nationwide state of emergency- followed by shutting down social media channels. The cause of the outbreak of violence is said to have been ignited by the murder of a Buddhist man by Muslim youths in early March. The police later confirmed that they don’t believe the dispute to have been racially motivated in nature. However, this fuelled an already tense relationship between the two communities and violence soon erupted in the Kandy district where Muslim owned shops fell victim to arson attacks, which later spread to homes and mosques being destroyed or burnt to the ground. This followed reports of anti-Muslim violence in the end of February in the eastern coastal district of Ampara. Initially a local curfew was imposed on Kandy, however as violence began to spread out of the district, the government issued a nationwide state of emergency for 10 days.

Sri Lanka has a recent history of domestic unrest, having just recovered from a civil war that lasted from 1983- 2009 with Tamil separatists. It seems now the division is between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the small (9%) Muslim minority. One of the causes of the recent wave of conflict between the two communities is said to be the economic stronghold that Muslims are gaining in Sri Lanka. Some Buddhist groups were also suggesting Muslims were forcing people to convert to Islam. Analysts have suggested that the relationship the Buddhist community have with influential members and the lack of government action, makes them feel they can commit such acts without the fear of reprisal.

More hard-line Sinhalese Buddhists groups have been using social media to spread this ideology of hate towards the Muslim community in the name of nationalism. There have been reports of links between a nationalist faction of Sinhalese Buddhists- Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and the Buddhist group in Myanmar, Ma Ba Tha. This raises concerns as to how to quell this dispute to avoid further disunity and potential ongoing violence between the two communities resulting in a situation similar to that of Rohingya.

Recent years have seen Sri Lanka plagued by anti-Muslim hate crimes often carried out in the name of nationalism. The international community has applied pressure on the Sri Lankan government to bring about reformation in policy to protect minorities in the country. The UN has previously criticised Sri Lanka for their inability to swiftly address war crimes and human rights abuses allegations from the civil war where atrocities have been said to have occurred on both sides. The government needs to act to protect the rights of all ethnic groups and religions and ensure that loyalties to Buddhist groups do not affect the way this situation is handled.

More news from the ground is due to be released shortly.