International Reactions to Anti-Muslim Riots in Sri Lanka

March 21, 2018        Reading Time: 6 minutes

Reading Time: 6 min read

Image Credit: hecke06 / depositphotos

By Senal Hewage, Cassendra Pinto and Barana Waidyatilake*

The table below lists official reactions of a number of foreign governments and UN agencies to the recent anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka. It includes official (English) statements by their diplomats and foreign ministries; travel advisories; and reactions to the social media ban imposed by the Sri Lankan government in relation to the riots.

By compiling this table, we hope to present a ‘snapshot’ of the international community’s responses, and to thereby provide a better understanding of various countries’ expectations of Sri Lanka. The table may not include every official response. Readers are encouraged to add others they may know of, via the comments sections below or LKI’s social media.

Country Official Responses Travel Advisories Reaction to the Government’s Social Media Ban
Australia  The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued the following travel advisory on 8 March 2018:
“On 6 March 2018, the Sri Lankan Government declared a nationwide State of Emergency due to incidents of communal unrest. The State of Emergency provides authorities with increased powers to search individuals, impose roadblocks and curfews, and to limit public gatherings. Access to social messaging networks may be restricted. Avoid protests and large public gatherings as they have the potential to turn violent. Monitor local media and follow instructions issued by local authorities. The level of our advice has not changed. Exercise normal safety precautions in Sri Lanka.”
 Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bryce Hutchesson tweeted on 12 March 2018,
“Time (overdue) to lift Sri Lanka’s blanket blocking of key social media platforms – a blunt instrument #SocialMediaBlock
Canada Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in an official media release dated 8 March 2018 said:

“Canada is deeply concerned by recent inter-communal violence in Sri Lanka, in which Muslims were targeted. Canada urges all sides to engage in inclusive dialogue and exercise restraint to ensure peace and stability. We call for an immediate end to hate and misinformation campaigns inciting sectarian violence. Canada welcomes the Government of Sri Lanka’s condemnation of the violent acts. Canada calls on the Government to ensure the safety and security of all minorities, to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all and to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. As we said at the United Nations Human Rights Council last month, frustrations persist among those trying to heal the wounds of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Ensuring that diversity and pluralism are valued is critical to the work of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”

Freeland also tweeted similar sentiments via her official Twitter page.

China PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang’s Regular Press Conference on 7 March 2018:

Q: According to reports, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on 6 March 2018 signed a gazette notification declaring a week-long nationwide state of emergency in response to Sinhalese-Muslim riots in several parts of the country. What is your comment on this?

A: “We have noted relevant reports. This belongs to Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. China believes that the Sri Lankan government and its people are capable of handling the current situation, and upholding Sri Lanka’s social stability and ethnic solidarity. We also hope that Sri Lanka will take concrete measures to protect the security of Chinese citizens in Sri Lanka.”



EU The European Union (EU) Delegation in Sri Lanka, in an official statement on 8 March 2018, said:

“The recent attacks on communities are very worrying. It is important that the Government and the security forces take urgent action against hate crimes and ensure that the perpetrators of such actions are swiftly brought to justice. It is vital that all political leaders, religious and other community leaders condemn violence and make every effort to promote understanding and harmony between communities. The EU trusts that any actions taken under the State of Emergency will be proportionate and respect constitutional rights and freedoms.”

Pakistan Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson responded to the following question at a press briefing on 8 March 2018:

Q: “What are your comments on the disturbing situation in Sri Lanka where the Muslim minority is under real threat?”

A: “This is an internal matter of Sri Lanka. I would not comment.”

Singapore The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore issued the following travel advisory on 7 March 2018:

“The Government of Sri Lanka has imposed a state of emergency for 10 days effective from 6 March 2018. Security forces have been deployed to maintain law and order. In view of media reports of communal clashes in Kandy, Singaporeans are advised to defer all non-essential travels to Kandy until the situation stabilises.

If you are already in Kandy, Sri Lanka, you are advised to exercise vigilance and take all necessary precautions for your personal safety, monitor the news closely and heed the instructions of the local authorities. You should avoid protests and large public gatherings. You should also purchase comprehensive travel insurance and be familiar with the terms and coverage.”

UK British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, James Dauris, tweeted the following on 8 March 2018:

UK at the #HumanRights Council, 8 March 2018:
“We support the govt’s determination to end recent inter-communal violence in #SriLanka swiftly, using measures that are proportionate and respect human rights, and urge it to hold the perpetrators to account.”

High Commissioner Dauris also tweeted on 14 March 2018:

Thousands in #SriLanka have been frightened and worse by ugly violence in recent weeks. Really important that the government and authorities apply the law and prosecute all those who have been leading and inciting religious and ethnic hatred, including through social media.”

The United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued the following travel advisory, updated as of 12 March 2018:

“A countrywide State of Emergency has been in force since 6 March 2018, following a number of violent incidents in Ampara and the Kandy area. Additional security personnel have been deployed in some areas, and access to a number of social media platforms is restricted. Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo is operating as normal and there are no reports of ongoing incidents in major tourist areas.

If you’re in Sri Lanka or due to travel, you’re advised to exercise caution, avoid protests and rallies, and follow the advice of the local authorities. In addition to our travel advice, you may wish to consult the Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority website, which has issued regular updates on the impact on tourist travel.”

UN In his Annual Report and Oral Update to the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 7 March 2018, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein stated the following:

“In Sri Lanka, I am very alarmed by recurring and continuing episodes of mob violence targeting ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, including most recently in Ampara and in several locations in the Kandy district, leading to the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency for 10 days. There should be no impunity, either for the incitement that led to the attacks, or the attacks themselves. I have repeatedly urged the Government to advance its implementation of the transitional justice agenda. I regret the absence of meaningful progress. It is urgent for the sake of the victims that progress be made on accountability and transitional justice. In the absence of such progress I would encourage Member States to explore the use of universal jurisdiction. The Council will be fully briefed on 21 March.”

The Office of the UN Secretary-General stated the following in a note on UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman’s three-day visit to Sri Lanka:

“Regarding the recent communal violence, the Under-Secretary-General condemned the breakdown in law and order and the attacks against Muslims and their property. On behalf of the United Nations, he offered condolences to those affected. In that context, he met with Muslim political and civil society leaders to express concern and show solidarity. He urged swift and full implementation of the Government’s commitment to bring the perpetrators of the violence and hate speech to justice, to take measures to prevent recurrence, and to enforce non-discriminatory rule of law.”

US The United States Embassy in Sri Lanka issued a statement on 6 March 2018:

“Rule of law, human rights, and equality are essential for peaceful coexistence.  It is important that the Government of Sri Lanka act quickly against perpetrators of sectarian violence, protect religious minorities and their places of worship, and conclude the State of Emergency swiftly, while protecting human rights and basic freedoms for all.”

The US State Department issued the following tweet on 6 March 2018:

“The Sri Lankan Government declared a State of Emergency and curfews have been imposed in some regions, including Kandy Administrative District, due to communal unrest. Further incidents possible over the next few days. Monitor local media for updates.”

The US Embassy in Sri Lanka issued the following security alert on 6 March 2018:

“EventThe Sri Lankan government declared an island-wide State of Emergency and curfews have been imposed in some regions due to communal unrest. Local authorities are authorized to declare local curfews. Further incidents are possible over the next few days.

Actions to Take:

  • Avoid the areas of unrest.
  • Exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or
  • Monitor local media for updates.
  • Keep a low profile.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap, tweeted on 13 March 2018:

“The longer the social media ban persists in Sri Lanka, the greater the damage to tourism, the IT sector, business and the nation’s reputation for freedom and openness.”

*Senal Hewage is a Research and Programmes Assistant at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI). Cassendra Pinto is a Programmes and Communications Assistant at LKI. Barana Waidyatilake is a Research Fellow at LKI.

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