The Sunday Leader

Aluthgama Report: Fingers Point At Hate Speech

By Waruni Karunarathne

Hate speech was seen as one of the main causes behind the Aluthgama violence last year and proposals have been made to ensure history does not repeat itself.

The Law and Society Trust (LST) and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) jointly organized a public discussion on the ‘Aluthgama Riots and Its Aftermath’ last Thursday to officially mark the release of a report produced by the LST on the Aluthgama incident. The report had made certain observations and recommendations.

In the report, it was noted that there was evidence that the hate speech cultivating hate sentiment against Muslims had an extremely deleterious effect on communities’ perceptions of one another.

“The fact that rumours circulating in the aftermath spoke of violent attacks by Muslims against monks and temples, and that the people believed such stories to the extent that they joined mobs that were perpetrating violence against Muslims is a sad comment on the state of law and order in society,” the report stated.

They have also made observations in the report that the government failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the incident and the extent of violence that took place in Aluthgama and thereby downplayed the incident in order to protect its reputation internationally. It also criticizes the former government for concentrating only on rebuilding infrastructure after the incident instead of addressing more complex and serious issues of the community. The report also highlighted that as consequences of the incident, there was a breakdown of relationship between Sinhala and Muslim neighbours in the area where perpetrators of violence freely walk on streets with impunity.

The report also observed that opposition political parties at the time of the incident – the UNP, TNA and JVP were vocal in their criticism of the government and some even accused the government of orchestrating the event – whereas the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) on the other hand attempted to capitalize on the event for its own political advantage.

In addition, the report made recommendations as to how to rebuild communal harmony towards reconciliation and how to avoid such incidents from happening.  The report on Aluthgama made recommendations to have a comprehensive and impartial state investigation into the incidents of Aluthgama and nearby places – in order to look into the impact of the hate speech, the inaction of the Police and the STF, the looting, the damages suffered by the affected people and the breakdown of community.

The report noted that the position adopted by the JHU for instance, is damaging to the polity as a whole and requires reversing. It also stressed on the need for Muslim civil society organizations to expend a similar amount of energy on engagements with other organizations with a history of interventions on issues of rights and impunity.

“While civil society organizations engaged in human rights work have signed petitions and taken positions against the manner in which the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is contributing to the deterioration of the human rights situation in post-war Sri Lanka, it is important that organizations that are taking a non ethnic specific stance against the excesses of the regime incorporate an analysis of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism today and the Muslim issue as raised by the BBS into their critique of the regime. If not, it is possible that their critique will completely miss the manner in which the Muslim issue emerges out of the complex post war transition taking place in this country,” it noted.

The report also highlighted the need to make attempts to bridge the divide that was created by the anti-Muslim sentiment propagated by the BBS and associated groups and later exacerbated by the violence.

Considering the evidence that many of those who participated in the violence were young men and to a lesser extent, women, the report noted that specific initiatives to work with young women and men, especially those who fall through the cracks of education and employment, are extremely necessary since these groups are vulnerable to mobilization for events of this nature. In addition, it emphasised the role of religion in bridging differences rather than reinforcing differences.

It added that opposition parties across the ideological divide need to find ways of building the confidence of minority communities. “Their analysis of the regime and its consequences need to take into account much more strongly the issue of ethnic relations and move beyond simplistic accounts of ethnic relations such as those that locate the deterioration of ethnic harmony as a consequence of colonialism. While it is commendable that reconstruction efforts have been undertaken with some speed, there is evidence that not much more than clearing has taken place in most areas,” the report marked.

However it admitted that all affected people experience some measure of relief through the government effort – therefore added that it is important that in this instance the government does not stop the reconstruction effort before it achieves results for all affected persons.

“REPIA (Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties & Industries Authority) forms were circulated among the affected persons asking for an accounting of their losses. It is important that these claims too are processed quickly in order that people can rebuild their lives,” the report noted.

Najah Mohamed, General Secretary of National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) told The Sunday Leader that the purpose of the event held on Thursday was to create a discussion on the content of the report produced by the Law and Society Trust Fund on Aluthgama Riots and its aftermath. He added that the report was a fact finding mission in terms of those who were affected by the incident, property damage and reactions of different groups towards the incident. He said that the report has compiled the responses of the former government towards the incident -and made observations on how the government allowed certain incidents to happen and how military intelligence, police, media and other parties responded. “Even though they have reconstructed 80% of damaged houses, shops and other infrastructure, justice is not done to the people who were affected. People have not been given compensation and they have neglected the need for reconciliation and rebuilding trust among the communities,” Mohamed added.

According to him, there were a mix group of audience for the discussion including different ethnic groups and official representatives from military and other civil society organizations. He said that the NFGG is to officially communicate the content of the report produced by the Law and Society Trust Fund on Aluthgama Riots and its aftermaths to the new President as an attempt to seek his serious engagement for conciliation and to rebuild trust among the communities.

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