Sun, Sep 01, 2013 - Page 4 News List

After one-week visit, UN rights chief says Sri Lanka turning authoritarian

AP, COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

A Sri Lankan activist wails as she holds a photograph during a candlelight vigil in Colombo on Friday to mark the International Day of the Disappeared. The vigil at Colombo’s Independence Square came as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited the island to probe alleged war crimes at a time when international rights groups said thousands had disappeared in the country in the past three decades.

Photo: AFP

The UN rights chief yesterday chastised the Sri Lankan government, saying it is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction despite the end of a civil war four years ago.

In a hard-hitting statement ending a week-long visit to assess the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was “deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”

During her stay, Pillay met government officials, politicians, rights activists and people affected by the war. She is to report her findings to the UN Human Rights Council next month.

“The war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded,” Pillay said, citing the government’s move three years ago to abolish provisions for independent police, judiciary and human rights commissions, and give the president the power to appoint officials to the commissions.

“The controversial impeachment of the chief justice earlier this year and apparent politicization of senior judicial appointments have shaken confidence in the independence of the judiciary,” she said.

Describing her visit to the former war zone in the north of Sri Lanka, Pillay said that she was concerned about the increasing military involvement in civilian affairs and urged the government to speed up demilitarization.

She said it was disturbing to hear reports of military or police visiting and questioning villagers with whom she spoke in the former war zone and alleged intimidation of rights activists she met with.

“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. Utterly unacceptable at any time it is particularly extraordinary or such treatment to be meted out during a visit by the UN high commissioner for human rights,” she said.

“I wish to stress that the United Nations takes the issue of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter,” Pillay said, adding she would report it to the human rights council.

The government has defended its rights record, and says the international community should focus more on the abuses carried out by the rebel Tamil Tigers during the nearly three-decade-long civil war.

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