The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) notes with concern, the rise of hate speech in Sri Lanka in the recent past, which challenges the initiatives being taken by the government to heal our country after decades of bloodshed and destruction.
Hate filled expressions and actions by groups with vested interests, resulting in demeaning, denigrating and inciting violence against fellow citizens of various ethnic, religious backgrounds has no place in Sri Lankan society.
For the first time in contemporary Sri Lanka, the Government has a stated vision to build One United Nation by promoting Reconciliation and a lasting Peace. The Government is working towards bringing about reconciliation among all communities, making it the highest priority.
This is in contrast to the years before 2015 where power brokers in the state fomented communal and ethnic hatred, shielded by a culture of impunity, thereby inciting racism and violence against fellow Sri Lankans.
The Government and the people of Sri Lanka are presently engaged in the noble task of rebuilding a society in which Good Governance prevails. The challenges faced in realising this are immense. Yet, the new opportunities that have opened up and the favourable socio-political context created since January 2015 must be seized.
The active participation and leadership of ALL patriotic Sri Lankans is essential for the achievement of Reconciliation, Peace and honest, effective, people friendly Governance if we are to attain political stability, economic growth and progress we so richly deserve as a Nation. We must work towards acknowledging the differences and celebrating the richness of diversity in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious country.
Short, medium and long term efforts are underway to address the grievances of all communities and to build a sense of respect, equality and pride in every citizen, living in an inclusive Sri Lanka where each person has the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms that are the right of all citizens.
The strictest action must be taken without delay, against persons or groups who act to provoke disharmony by creating divisions among citizens along ethnic and religious lines. President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmasinghe and the entire government have categorically reiterated that hate speech will not be tolerated.
We welcome the proactive actions by civil society and religious leaders in countering the attempts to spread hate by very small yet vocal groups.
ONUR, while appreciating the arrest of two individuals from two different communities, accused of hate speech and for inciting racism, urges the relevant authorities to take appropriate action against all such incidents regardless of the social status, ethnic / religious background or political affiliations of the perpetrators.
We note that there are numerous complaints against hate speech and incitement to racism where strong evidence is available yet investigations and prosecutions are pending for some time. We urge the law enforcement authorities to take early action on all these incidents.
We welcome His Excellency the President and the Hon. Prime Minister’s unequivocal statements that we cannot permit racist or extremist elements from any community to challenge or imperil our chosen path to a stable, prosperous and plural Sri Lanka.
We appeal to all Sri Lankan’s to engage with the Government to realise this goal.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Chairperson, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation