The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in a statement said it joined the international community in strongly condemning the Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and its recently enacted regulation, namely ‘De-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology’, which allows creation of ‘Reintegration Centres’ to arbitrarily detain Muslims and subject them to torture and other human rights violations without any legal oversight with impunity.
These tragic developments are further compounded by reports of a newly imposed burqa ban, under the pretext of counterterrorism measures, which squarely violates minorities’ right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Commission, while taking serious note of the UNHCHR report, which highlighted the prevalence of “endemic patterns of custodial deaths, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial killings with impunity” and that COVID-19 pandemic “exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community,” urged the Sri Lankan Government to immediately repeal the draconian PTA and to impartially investigate the reported incidents of human rights violations by allowing access to justice and free trial to all its minorities.
With regards to the banning of burqa, the Commission expressed its serious concerns and stressed that such blanket measures would: (a) violate the Muslim women’s freedom to manifest their religion (ICCPR Art. 18(1); and exercise their choice for identity as guaranteed under (ICCPR: Art. 17(1); (b) expose them to religious discrimination (ICCPR: Art. 2(1), Art. 26); and (c) violate the rights of its minorities ‘to enjoy their own culture, and to profess and practice their own religion’ (ICCPR Art. 27). Such discriminatory measures will also cement negative stereotypes against Muslim women, disproportionately restrict their freedom to manifest their religion, cause intersectional discrimination and greater marginalisation as well as stoke undue hostility/physical violence because of their clothing, it added.
The Commission concluded that such a majoritarian rhetoric and discriminatory measures are contrary to the ideals of pluralism, counterproductive to societal cohesion and clear manifestations of Islamophobia. Accordingly, it urged the Government to fulfil its international human rights obligations by ensuring to protect the rights of its Muslim minority to practice their religion, free from any coercion or discrimination.
The Commission also urged the (a) Sri Lankan Muslim community and human rights organisations to exhaust all available domestic remedies including domestic courts for redressal of grievances and repeal of discriminatory laws; and (b) international community to engage with Sri Lankan authorities to seek redressal for the aggrieved minority including by punishing those found guilty as per international human rights law.