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Sri Lanka's Buddhist statues in North-East leave perception of 'imperialism' says US State Dept

The Sri Lankan government has continued to build Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas in the North-East, despite objections from locals and leaving civil society with the perception of “Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism,” said the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016.

“Non-Buddhist religious groups reported an increase in discriminatory restrictions imposed by local government officials on religious minorities,” stated the report which was released earlier today.

In particular the report highlighted the case of Buddhist monks involved in attacks on Christians and Muslims in 2014 and the failure to prosecute them, noting that the case against them has “progressed slowly”.

“Authorities did not file indictments as of the end of the year, but the cases were reportedly scheduled to be tried in 2017,” noted the report, adding “Muslim lawyers with knowledge of the case stated 42 cases related to anti-Muslim riots in 2014 in Aluthgama remained pending at the end of the year”.

In the North-East, the Sri Lankan government has “continued to permit the construction of Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas despite strong objections from members of the Hindu, Muslim, and Christian communities,” it stated.

“Civil society groups and politicians in the north and east stated the construction of Buddhist shrines by Buddhist groups or the military in parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces became contentious symbols of perceived Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism,” continued the report.

“The north and east are predominantly Hindu and Muslim, and some Buddhist shrines were erected in areas with few, if any, Buddhist residents. According to local politicians in the north, the military sometimes acted outside its official capacity to aid in the construction of these statues.”

Sri Lanka’s constitution also continues to grant the “first and foremost” place to Buddhism noted the US State Department, recalling a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that determined the state was constitutionally required to protect only Buddhism and no other religion.

The notion of ensuring the state continues to grant Buddhism special protection has been defended by both Sri Lanka’s President and Prime Minister.

See the full text of the report here.

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