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UN rights expert's stark warning for Sri Lanka

Nation is sliding towards authoritarian rule, she says

UN rights expert's stark warning for Sri Lanka

UN rights expert Navi Pillay alongside Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Presidents Office / AFP) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

September 2, 2013

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The UN’s rights expert has warned that Sri Lanka continues to slide towards authoritarian rule four years after the end of the civil war, with several people she met during a recent visit having faced harassment by police.

Navi Pillay urged the government to de-militarise former war zones, and said that calls for an international inquiry into the handling of the conflict would continue if local investigations do not yield results.

“Although the fighting is over, the suffering is not,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told a news conference in Colombo on Aug 31, at the end of her seven day fact-finding mission.

"Wounds will not heal and reconciliation will not happen, without respect for those who grieve," she added. "Physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace."

The government has said it is ready to investigate the allegations raised by Pillay at the press briefing, where she claimed that some people she met had subsequently been threatened.

"I urge the government to issue immediate orders to halt this treatment of human rights defenders and journalists who face this kind of harassment and intimidation on a regular basis," Pillay said.

The government’s Media and Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said however that certain groups with ulterior motives may have tried to pass false information to Pillay.

More than 30 journalists have been killed since 2005 and many others have fled the country. Newspaper and TV offices have been vandalized or subjected to arson attacks.

Her visit sparked demonstrations for and against her, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa claiming that some believe the UN is a biased organization, and that a report she is due to release next month had already prejudged the country.

Three ministers had described Pillay as a tool of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on account of her Indian Tamil heritage.

The LTTE, better known as the Tamil Tigers, had until their defeat in 2009 been fighting the government for more than three decades.

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