In International Spotlight, Accountability Stymied; Activists Under Assault
(New York) – Sri Lanka made little progress in 2013 in accountability for serious human rights abuses committed during the country’s civil war that ended in 2009, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014. As the United Nations and international condemnation escalated, human rights activists and journalists critical of the government continued to face intimidation and threats.
“The Sri Lankan government makes a lot of claims about pursuing accountability for wartime abuses, but the world is still waiting to see some results,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s clearer than ever that an independent international investigation is needed to make genuine progress in providing justice for victims.”
In the 667-page World Report 2014, its 24th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop it, Human Rights Watch said. A reinvigorated doctrine of “responsibility to protect” seems to have prevented some mass atrocities in Africa. Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights. And Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs reverberated around the globe.
The Sri Lankan government responded to a March resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council by announcing various actions to provide accountability in accordance with its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. While some of these are positive – such as arresting some of the suspects in the 2006 “Trinco Five” killings and beginning a six-month nationwide population survey to determine the civil war’s toll – both their outcome and broader impact on accountability is uncertain. The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, after a week-long visit in August, said she found no credible evidence of any progress.
Several governments used the November Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo to spotlight the lack of accountability. Prime ministers of Canada, Mauritius, and India pointedly did not attend. UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out on rights issues, visiting the predominantly Tamil town of Jaffna and supporting an international inquiry for “the particularly dreadful things that happened at the end of the war.”
Sri Lankans who criticized the government remained subject to harassment or threats, Human Rights Watch said. Pillay reported that the government was heading in an “increasingly authoritarian direction.” People with whom Pillay met during her trip were later visited by members of the security forces. State media continued to name and attack rights activists, particularly those working on accountability issues.
Members of the ethnic minority Tamil community deemed to have ties to the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) faced serious abuse. Torture, rape, and ill-treatment in custody by the security forces remain widespread. Although the government rejected allegations of torture of detainees, several European countries suspended deportations of Tamils linked to the LTTE, finding them to be at risk of torture on return.
“As 2014 begins, increased international pressure in support of basic rights is desperately needed to reverse a course that is threatening democratic rule in Sri Lanka,” Adams said.