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Sri Lankan priest quizzed after UN visit

Police demand details of meeting with UN rights chief

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: September 03, 2013 09:09 AM GMT

Updated: September 03, 2013 04:11 PM GMT

Sri Lankan priest quizzed after UN visit

Family members of those who went missing during the war hold up pictures of lost relatives in Jaffna

Security personnel questioned the head of a human rights program in northeastern Sri Lanka after meeting UN rights Chief Navi Pillay last week.

Father Veerasan Yogeswaran, a Jesuit priest who runs the Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CPPHR), was visited by five policemen in his office in Trincomalee, 260 kilometers northeast of Colombo, after he met with UN rights chief Navi Pillay.

“When security forces come at late night and question, people will be very embarrassed,” the 63-year-old said. “What will be the plight of the poor public when the security personnel come to their houses at night?”

Pillay last week strongly denounced the intimidation of people she had spoken to during her week-long fact finding mission to probe alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“I have received reports about the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens who met with me,” she said last Saturday.

"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 for such treatment to be meted out during a visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"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, and I will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council.

“I urge the government of Sri Lanka 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,” she said.

The CPPHR helps families of people who went missing during the three-decade civil war.

Senior constitutional lawyer JC Weliamuna told ucanews.com that people must be free to meet and discuss any matter pertaining to human rights with the UN chief.

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“If the government is not respecting this right, this clearly raises the question of the bona fides of the government,” he said.

Pillay’s reports were attacked by Minister for External Affairs GL Peiris, who said the tone and substance showed a distressing lack of balance.

Sri Lanka had invited Pillay in the interests of transparency and visibility, he said, and allowed her free access to any part of the country she wished to visit.

Peiris said that the UN chief provided no basis for her allegation in the report that the government is guilty of war crimes during the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

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