Cautious welcome for Sri Lanka reconciliation

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Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera said his country had promoted human rights and economic development, despite challenges. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka after decades of civil war is under way but more needs to be done to bring to justice those guilty of rights abuses, the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has said.

Speaking to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr Zeid welcomed government reform on issues including greater controls on the military.

But the High Commissioner expressed concern that Colombo has not moved fast enough on confidence-building measures for victims of violence.

Daniel Johnson has more:

Although the more than 25-year civil war that pitted Sri Lanka's government forces against the so-called Tamil Tigers ended in 2009, a "culture of surveillance…and intimidation" still exists.

That's according to UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

His update to the Council on human rights in the country follows international pressure for national reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority.

This resulted in a commitment from the Colombo government to address what the UN has called possible war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict.

Zeid noted that the decision to sing Sri Lanka's national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil on Independence Day – for the first time since the early 1950s – had been a powerful gesture.

But he said that people remain anxious at the pace of reform, and that justice for victims of abuse, along with economic revival, are at risk of being stalled.

One of the concerns involves delays in identifying and releasing land in the North and East still held by the military:

"The lack of transparency in this process is increasingly feeding frustration and disenchantment, particularly amongst victims and the IDP community."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for international participation in the reconciliation process, while also calling for a credible witness protection programme to encourage people to testify against their abusers.

In reply, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, said that the country had challenges, but that it had begun strengthening good governance and the rule of law, as well as promoting and protecting human rights, reconciliation and economic development.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’35″


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