Sri Lanka’s “element of fear” is diminished, says rights chief

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, concluding his four day visit to Sri Lanka, delivers a media statement at an end of mission press conference held at the UN Compound in Colombo on 9 February 2016. Photo: UN Sri Lanka/Muradh Mohideen

Respect for people's freedom and their civil liberties has come a long way in Sri Lanka, but a so-called "element of fear" still prevails in some areas, the UN's top human rights official said Tuesday.

Speaking from Colombo after visiting the country and meeting with political leaders and rights defenders, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said he was pleased that "moderate voices of civil society can at last be heard" even if sometimes the "voices of hatred and bigotry are still shouting the loudest".

Daniel Johnson reports.

In a statement marking the end of his visit to Sri Lanka – which endured nearly 30 years of conflict and rights abuses – Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein praised the country's "new environment".

Speaking in Colombo, he said that one of its important recent achievements had been the restoration of the legitimacy and independence of Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission.

Now, the UN Human Rights Commissioner said, journalists "enjoyed much greater freedom…to write what you wish to write".

And he said that so-called "white van abductions" of anyone who criticised the government were now "very seldom reported".

However, Zeid said that the country's protracted conflict had "eroded" state institutions, leaving Sri Lanka in the "early stages of its renewal".

And he said that while "the element of fear" has considerably diminished in the capital, Colombo, and the south, it still exists in the north and the east of the country.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner added that Sri Lanka's conflict had cost tens of thousands of lives, and at the same time distracted the country from addressing widespread discrimination.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’09″

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