If there were any doubt where women’s issues rank in the Sri Lanka government’s list of priorities, it was laid to rest last week in Geneva.

When the Sri Lanka delegation appeared before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) on February 22, it should have been well-prepared for the occasion. It was the country’s eighth periodic review, and the questions that the committee would raise were no mystery – the CEDAW Committee and Sri Lankan civil society groups have had steady dialogue with the government over their concerns.

A woman walks past a cooking fire along a road during Eid al-Fitr in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 8, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters

But the government delegation seemed incapable or unwilling to address any issues of substance regarding women’s rights: discriminatory marriage laws, land and livelihood concerns, and strengthening laws that protect women, to name just a few. Instead, the delegation fell back on platitudinous responses that existing laws were sufficient to meet the government’s obligations and that constitutional amendments now under consideration will address other issues.

Of particular concern was the delegation’s inability to answer questions related to the role women will play in current efforts to seek truth, justice, and reconciliation for the widespread human rights abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war, which ended in 2009.

When it became clear that the committee wasn’t about to let the delegation off the hook, Sri Lanka’s long-time Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha rose to respond. But instead of providing direct answers, he delivered a preview of Sri Lanka’s presentation to the Human Rights Council during its 34th session, which began this Monday.

In sending a delegation to the CEDAW Committee unprepared to answer obvious questions, the government betrays a lack of commitment to women’s rights issues. Governments and human rights activists watching Sri Lanka over the next few weeks during its review at the Human Rights Council would do well to remember Sri Lanka’s appalling performance before the CEDAW Committee. No one at the council should let Sri Lanka dodge critical questions a second time around.