Rights, democracy under threat in Sri Lanka: US envoy


by Amal Jayasinghe

(AFP) A top US envoy Saturday expressed Washington’s frustration over Sri Lanka’s failure to deliver on human rights promises and warned further international censure.

In a strongly-worded statement at the end of her two-day visit, Nisha Biswal, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said they believed Sri Lanka’s human rights record had deteriorated five years after the end of the war.

Democracy was also under threat in Sri Lanka where she said rule of law had weakened while corruption had increased five years after the end of a bloody Tamil separatist war.

"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 levels of corruption and impunity.

"All of these factors lead to undermine the proud tradition of democracy in Sri Lanka," she told reporters in Colombo.

Asked if the US would contemplate economic sanctions, she said: "We are not discussing that."

However, she said the US was working on a third resolution against Sri Lanka at next month’s UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.

"Lack of progress in Sri Lanka has led to a great deal of frustration and scepticism in my government and the international community," Biswal said.

She said the US favoured a domestic process to investigate allegations of war crimes, including charges that thousands of civilians were killed by government forces in the final months of fighting in 2009, but there was no progress.

However, she warned that "patience is wearing thin."

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron warned during a Commonwealth summit in Colombo in November that he would use London’s position at the UN to press for an independent international investigation unless Colombo showed results by March.

Biswal said the new US resolution was to nudged Sri Lanka to do more to ensure "reconciliation, justice, and accountability."

"... without justice, reconciliation, and accountability, there can be no sustained peace and equitable prosperity for the Sri Lankan people.

"Respect for human rights and a promotion of transparent and democratic governance are essential. Unfortunately, continued deterioration in these areas is already beginning to take its toll on democracy in Sri Lanka," she said.

Biswal, who arrived in Colombo on Friday, is the second US envoy to travel to Sri Lanka in recent weeks after war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp stirred controversy by visiting a former Sri Lankan battleground earlier last month.

The envoy was also critical of attacks against religious minorities as well as intimidation of local residents who complained that they were intimidated after they spoke with visiting foreign dignitaries to discuss Sri Lanka’s rights issues.

Sri Lanka has consistently denied what the UN calls credible allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by Sri Lankan troops in the final months of the war that ended in 2009.

Government forces declared victory after wiping out the leadership of Tamil Tiger rebels in a no-holds-barred offensive and called an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed which according to the UN had claimed at least 100,000 lives.

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