Pilloried and praised, congratulated and condemned, Sri Lanka has received a forthright, but divided, assessment of its postwar human rights record.
Sri Lanka, whose 26-year-civil war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers, was excoriated by a swath of countries, including the US, Britain, France and Canada, at the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s universal periodic review hearing in Geneva. Those countries detailed allegations of continuing human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, torture and state-sanctioned murders.
“Opposition figures have been harassed, detained and prosecuted.”
But the island nation stoutly defended itself, and was backed by Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and a host of others, which said it had made solid progress since war’s end.
“Serious human rights violations continue, including disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings and threats to freedom of expression. Opposition figures have been harassed, detained and prosecuted. There have been no credible investigations or prosecutions for attacks on journalists and media outlets.”
Ms Donahoe brought up the case of the judge Manjula Tillakaratne, who was beaten in broad daylight after he said publicly judges were being pressured by powerful people and were in fear for their lives.
She also mentioned the government’s efforts to impeach the country’s chief justice, which
began on Thursday. The government claims Shirani Bandaranayake has overstepped her mandate, but most observers regard the impeachment as a new front in a long-running battle with the judiciary.
Ms Donahoe said Sri Lanka’s former conflict zones in the Tamil-dominated north remained militarised “and the military continues to encroach upon daily civilian and economic affairs”.
Britain’s ambassador, Karen Pearce, said there should be no impunity for attacks on journalists, rights defenders and lawyers, “nor reprisals against any individual including for cooperating with UN mechanisms”.
Sri Lanka’s representative, Mahinda Samarasinghe, said his government was concerned, more than any country, with “winning the peace” and building a comprehensive rehabilitation.
“On many fronts progress has been achieved, but we still acknowledge, at the same time, that challenges are ahead of us. We ask our friends in the international community to give us the time and space to make further progress. We are working for a new Sri Lanka, we are working for a united Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka was defended by many allies, who said the country had defeated terrorism. The country was praised for its efforts to resettle people displaced by the war, for boosting education rates and for opening up the previously war-torn north of the country.