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Sri Lanka

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Both local and Indian-origin Tamils maintained that they suffered long-standing, systematic discrimination in university education, government employment, housing, health services, language laws, and procedures for naturalization of noncitizens. Throughout the country, but especially in the north and east, Tamils reported security forces regularly monitored and harassed members of their community, especially activists, journalists, and NGO staff and former or suspected former LTTE members.

According to an October Amnesty International report, the Muslim community has experienced consistent discrimination, harassment, and violence since 2013. The government failed to prosecute individuals and groups involved in vandalizing mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and homes after the May 2019 riots that followed the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. As of October 14, according to civil society groups, more than 300 individuals (almost all Muslim) remained in detention in alleged connection with the Easter Sunday attacks (see section 1.d.).

On February 25, the government reversed the mandatory cremation policy for all COVID-19 victims, which had been in effect since March 2020. The policy violated Muslim religious tenants and the religious preferences of some Christians and Buddhists. International organizations reported the government used the COVID-19 pandemic to “stoke communal tensions” as well as to limit religious freedom. Some extremist Buddhist monks and other extremist groups continued to use hate speech on social media with impunity.

On October 26, President Rajapaksa appointed a 13-member presidential task force to implement his “One Country, One Law” campaign pledge and named general secretary of the Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena and Buddhist monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero as chairman. The presidential task force initially included four Muslims but no Tamils or Christians. On November 6, the president limited the mandate of the task force to presenting proposals for a framework of the “One Country, One Law” concept. He also appointed three Tamil members, replacing two of the original members (one Sinhalese and one Muslim) who had resigned. As of December 7, the task force had held public consultations in the northern and eastern provinces. Civil society, opposition politicians, and representatives of ethnic and religious minority groups criticized the announcement of the task force and the appointment of Gnanasara as chairman, noting fears that the task force would “eventually turn towards targeting minorities.”

See sections 1-5 for incidents affecting racial and ethnic minority groups, and section 2.c. for issues impacting religious minority groups.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future