The UK remains “seriously concerned” over the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, especially with regard to freedom of expression of people and the media besides judicial independence, Britain’s foreign office has said in a report.

“The human rights situation in Sri Lanka in 2012 remained of serious concern, with a number of negative developments, including with regard to freedom of expression and media and judicial independence”, the report issued last night said.

The report titled ‘Human Rights and Democracy report for 2012’ was launched by Foreign Secretary William Hague in London.

Stressing that the UK had co-sponsored the US-moved resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March, the report says there continued to be reports of further abductions and disappearances, although the number of such incidents reduced from spring 2012 onwards compared to 2011 levels.

“Rule of law issues in Sri Lanka came under the spotlight last year. Challenges include political interference in law enforcement, intimidation of legal professionals and access to justice. Long-term detention without charge persists under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Justice can be slow, with cases taking months or even years to come to trial”, the report said.

The Sri Lankan government and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) failed to reach consensus on addressing key Tamil minority concerns. The Sri Lankan government reported that recruitment of Tamil-speaking police increased by 427 to 1,216 in 2012.

The report, however, also commends Sri Lanka.

“Further progress was made on reintegration of ex-combatants and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs)”, it said.

Most of the 12,000 ex-combatants detained in 2009 have now been released. In 201112 the UK contributed 650,000 British pounds to support their reintegration into society. At the end of 2012, 775 ex-combatants remained in custody in “rehabilitation centres” and several hundred more were in prison awaiting prosecution, the report said.

Despite some improvements, the situation in the north remained problematic. Although reduced since 2009, the military presence in the Vanni region in particular remained heavy. The military continued to be involved in numerous civil functions despite the establishment and functioning of civilian authorities, according to the report.

“There were reports throughout the year of harassment of released ex-combatants”, it said.

Looking ahead, “We will do all we can to encourage Sri Lanka to demonstrate adherence to Commonwealth values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, particularly ahead of Sri Lanka’s hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November”, the report said. (PTI)