October 31, 2012

THE UN is under pressure to expose Sri Lanka’s failure to improve its human rights record when it scrutinises the country’s progress in a four-year review tomorrow.

The Sri Lankan government has said it is prepared for the review and has sent a high-powered delegation to Geneva for tomorrow’s sitting in which almost 100 countries have signalled their desire to question the nation over its rights record.

But submissions from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticised the government’s failure since the 2008 review – when the military was still embroiled in a civil conflict with Tamil rebels – to improve human rights and address disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

“Governments should use the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) to question Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation and make recommendations for meaningful change,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said. “Of particular concern is the government’s ongoing failure to hold anyone to account for numerous deadly abuses by both sides during Sri Lanka’s long war.”

Other civil society groups in their submissions for this week’s UN review allege the government has failed to make any progress on political reconciliation or address the harassment and even murder of human rights workers and journalists.A UN panel of experts last year found up to 40,000 civilians had been killed in the last months of the war, that the military had systematically shelled designated no-fire zones, and that Tamil Tigers had used civilians as human shields and shot others who tried to escape the conflict zone.

“We have ended a war but we have not moved to address the causes of conflict or the malaise of governance in general,” Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said yesterday.

Sri Lanka will face a further, more crucial UN review in March when the High Commissioner on Human Rights will report on whether the government should be offered international assistance to implement recommendations from its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee, which investigated the failure of the 2002 ceasefire and alleged war crimes committed during the 26-year war.

Rajiva Wijesinha, a reconciliation adviser to President Mahinda Rajapakse, yesterday acknowledged the government “can do better” on human rights, including more thorough investigations of journalist killings and torture allegations.

But he said the government had made considerable progress in resettling many thousands of families since the war ended in May 2009.

“I think many of the concerns of the 2008 review have been tackled reasonably well but there are remaining concerns, and we also need to work more quickly on implementing the recommendations of the LLRC and indeed the National Human Rights Plan,” he said.