COLOMBO: UN human rights chief Navi Pillay yesterday accused Sri Lanka of becoming “increasingly authoritarian”, with activists facing growing military harassment four years after the end of a civil war.
Pillay charged that military officials were harassing and intimidating priests, journalists and other civilians as punishment for meeting her during a fact-finding trip to the island to probe allegations of war crimes.
“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka ... is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,” the UN high commissioner for human rights told reporters at the end of a week-long mission.
Outside the UN compound in Colombo, dozens of Buddhist monks and their majority Sinhalese followers demonstrated, accusing Pillay of siding with minority Tamils as she addressed reporters who went through airport-style security to enter the tightly guarded building.
There was no immediate reaction from the Sri Lankan government to Pillay’s comments.
But London-based Amnesty International said her remarks echoed their own observations that the rights situation in Sri Lanka had deteriorated since the war ended in 2009.
“The Sri Lankan government still shows no real will to account for past crimes, combined with new attacks on those calling for accountability,” Amnesty’s deputy Asia Pacific director Polly Truscott said.
Amnesty said there was “every need for the UN to set up an independent international investigation into crimes under international law in Sri Lanka”.
The United Nation rights chief’s mission took her to the former war zones of the country’s north and east to meet relatives of those who disappeared during the decades-long conflict. Sri Lanka has resisted demands from the UN and Western nations for a “credible” investigation into allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the separatist war.
Pillay yesterday told Rajapakse’s government that the UN considers reprisals against civilians an “extremely serious matter”.