Aug 31, Colombo: Sri Lanka's achievements in resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation in the relatively short period since the armed conflict ended in 2009 are indeed impressive but physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said today.
Addressing a press conference in Colombo at the conclusion of her week-long visit to the island on a fact-finding mission, Pillay said a more holistic approach is needed to provide truth, justice and reparations for people's suffering during the war and offered the assistance of her office in these areas.
"I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction," she said.
Taking offensive in calling her a supporter of the defeated terrorist group Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Pillay said the accusation has reached an "extraordinary crescendo" during her visit to the country with at least three Government Ministers also joining to label her.
The Human Rights Chief denouncing the LTTE as a "murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives," called on the diaspora not to glorify the terrorist outfit.
"Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization," she said.
She thanked the government for its invitation and its excellent cooperation during the planning and conduct of this "very complex" mission. Despite few disturbing incidents she was free to go anywhere, and see anything she wished to see, Pillay affirmed.
Sympathizing with all the Sri Lankans who have lost a loved one during the war, whether civialn or soldier, Pillay said it is important for everyone to realize that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.
The UN official said she was moved by the profound trauma of the people she has seen among the relatives of the missing and the dead, and the war survivors, in all the places she has visited, as well as by their resilience.
Pillay warned of specific factors impeding normalization which according to her if not quickly rectified, may lead to future discord.
She explained that the curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights, or linked to persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law are factors impeding the achievement of true peace and reconciliation after the war.
The Rights chief stressed that her office wants to see progress in the implementation of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and proper investigation of the many outstanding allegations and concerns.
Recognizing that LLRC report contains a broad range of excellent recommendations regarding concrete improvements on human rights, Pillay said she expects to receive a briefing on the extent of the implementation of some of those recommendations from the Secretary to the President.
The UN official welcomed the forthcoming elections to the Northern Provincial Council and expressed hope that elections will proceed in a peaceful, free and fair environment, and usher in an important new stage in the devolution of power.
Pillay expressed concern over military's involvement in civilian activities such as education, agriculture and tourism and the acquisition of the land by the military for these activities.
"Clearly, the army needs some camps, but the prevalence and level of involvement of soldiers in the community seem much greater than is needed for strictly military or reconstruction purposes four years after the end of the war," she noted.
She urged the government to speed up the up its efforts to demilitarize the two war-affected provinces in North and East.
Expressing concern over vulnerability of women and girls, especially in female-headed households, to sexual harassment and abuse Pillay urged the authorities to rigorously enforce a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse.
She asked the government to expedite the cases of remaining detainees, either by bringing charges or releasing them for rehabilitation.
She said she was disappointed to learn that the new Commission of Inquiry on Disappearances will only cover disappearances in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and asked the government to broaden the Commission's mandate to include the "white van" disappearances reported in Colombo and other parts of the country in recent years.
She requested the Sri Lankan Government to ratify the International Convention on Disappearances, and invite the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka, ideally before she reports back to the Human Rights Council in March.
Pillay, speaking of the Courts of Inquiry appointed by the army to further investigate the allegations of civilian casualties and summary executions, said unless there is a credible national process, calls for an international inquiry are likely to continue.
Mentioning reports of human rights activists who spoke to her being harassed by security personnel, the UN official asked the government to issue immediate orders to halt this treatment of human rights defenders and journalists who face this kind of harassment and intimidation on a regular basis.
She stressed that the UN takes the issue of reprisals against people seriously because they have talked to UN officials, and said she will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council.
The UN official will provide an oral update to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in late September, and a full written report in March next year on her visit to Sri Lanka.
Full Speech by UN High Commissioner