Sri Lanka 'increasingly authoritarian': UN rights chief
By Amal Jayasinghe, AFPCOLOMBO--U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay on Saturday accused Sri Lanka of becoming “increasingly authoritarian,” with activists facing growing military harassment four years after the end of a civil war.
September 1, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Pillay charged that military officials were harassing and intimidating priests, journalists and other civilians as punishment for meeting her during a fact-finding trip to the island to probe allegations of war crimes.
“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka ... is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,” the U.N. high commissioner for human rights told reporters at the end of a week-long mission.
“You don't invite a person like me (to the country) and then do this type of thing. This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced,” she said.
Outside the U.N. compound in Colombo, dozens of Buddhist monks and their majority Sinhalese followers demonstrated, accusing Pillay of siding with minority Tamils as she addressed reporters who went through airport-style security to enter the tightly guarded building.
There was no immediate reaction from the Sri Lankan government to Pillay's comments.
But London-based Amnesty International said her remarks echoed their own observations that the rights situation in Sri Lanka had deteriorated since the war ended in 2009.
“The Sri Lankan government still shows no real will to account for past crimes, combined with new attacks on those calling for accountability,” Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director Polly Truscott said.
Amnesty said there was “every need for the U.N. to set up an independent international investigation into crimes under international law in Sri Lanka.”
The U.N. rights chief's mission took her to the former war zones of the country's north and east to meet relatives of those who disappeared during the decades-long conflict.
Sri Lanka has resisted demands from the U.N. and Western nations for a “credible” investigation into allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the separatist war.
Colombo had dropped its public hostility towards Pillay and approved her visit after previously accusing her of overstepping her mandate.
The U-turn came as Canada led calls for a boycott of a Commonwealth summit due to take place in Colombo in mid-November.
But relations appeared to have deteriorated during the trip, with President Mahinda Rajapakse accusing the U.N. of bias and Pillay of pre-judging Sri Lanka during talks between the two on Friday.
Pillay on Saturday told Rajapakse's government that the U.N. considers reprisals against civilians an “extremely serious matter.”
She said she had never come across such intimidation of civilians after they had spoken with U.N. officials, despite carrying out missions in more than 60 countries.
“I wish to stress the United Nations takes the issue of reprisals against people because they have talked to U.N. officials as an extremely serious matter,” she said.
“I will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council,” she said.