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US to pursue UN rights resolution against Sri Lanka

Envoy says international community's patience wearing thin

ucanews.com reporters, Colombo

ucanews.com reporters, Colombo

Published: February 03, 2014 09:42 AM GMT

Updated: February 02, 2014 10:43 PM GMT

US to pursue UN rights resolution against Sri Lanka

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal (right) meets with Bishop of Jaffna Thomas Savundaranayagam (center) on Saturday. 

A top United States envoy has informed Sri Lanka’s government that the US intends to sponsor a resolution at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council session in March calling for an international investigation into Sri Lanka’s alleged human rights abuses and war crimes.

“We are concerned about the worsening situation with respect to human rights including continued attacks against religious minorities as well as the weakening of the rule of law and an increase in the level of corruption and impunity,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal in a press conference on Saturday in Colombo.

In the last year, Christians, Muslims and Tamil Hindus have all been the victim of what would appear to be state-sanctioned violence carried out by radical Buddhist mobs. The country has also faced recent allegations of torture, media intimidation, enforced disappearances and rape committed against Tamil women in former conflict areas. 

Biswal met with political leaders, government officials and members of civil society on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka from January 31-February 2 ahead of the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in March.

“Lack of progress in Sri Lanka has led to a great deal of frustration and skepticism in my government and in the international community,” she said.

“There hasn’t been sufficient action taken by the government to address the issues of justice and accountability,” she said.

Biswal is the second US envoy to travel to Sri Lanka in a month’s time. After US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen J Rapp’s visit in January, the US embassy in Colombo released a statement urging Sri Lanka’s government to “seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions”.

“Even after four years of war there is no justice for victims,” said Anandhi Sasitharan, a member of the Tamil National Alliance and a provincial councilor in the north, who met with Biswal on the envoy’s trip to Jaffna.

“We strongly urged the US to call for an international independent UN working group to investigate enforced disappearances and abductions,” she said, adding that they had also stressed the need for the release of political prisoners and improved security for female-headed households in former conflict areas.

Sri Lanka was embroiled in a brutal civil war from 1983 to 2009. Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam both stand accused of a wide range of war crimes during the war including targeting civilians. According to the UN, as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the war alone.

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Rodney M Perera, spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry, rejected allegations by the US.

“Sri Lanka does not wish to be dictated to by others in the international community in the conduct of its internal affairs,” said Perera in a statement.

“Attributing blame to the government is totally unwarranted. While legal action has been taken with regard to some incidents, others have been settled amicably,” he added.

Some recommendations from the internal Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission have been successfully implemented regarding “development and resettlement”, said Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, a local non-government organization.

International rights groups have long called on Sri Lanka to demilitarize the North and implement the LLRC recommendations, which were first submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November of 2011. 

“Hardly anything has been implemented with regard to the governance-related recommendations, including establishing independent state institutions such as police and public service, and ensuring the rule of law,” he said.

“The disappeared still remain missing, and the Disappearances Commission has yet to complete its investigations and make its findings,” he said, adding that the military still had an occupying force in the former conflict areas.

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