Sri Lanka becoming more authoritarian, says UN rights chief

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 3:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 3:20pm

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned on Saturday that Sri Lanka was becoming “increasingly authoritarian” with rights activists apparently suffering growing harassment from security agencies.

“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka... is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,” Pillay told reporters at the end of a week-long visit to probe war crimes in the country.

Pillay said it was “utterly unacceptable” that rights activists who spoke with her during her fact-finding mission had subsequently faced harassment by the police and the military.

“This is over the top,” she said in the capital, ahead of her departure later in the day.

“You don’t invite a person like me and then do this type of thing. This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced.”

She also urged the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse to de-militarise the former war zones in the country’s east and north, following the end of an ethnic war in 2009.

Pillay began her visit last weekend after Colombo appeared to drop its public hostility towards her and the UN rights body, which has adopted two resolutions against the island in as many years.

She had publicly called for a war crimes investigation into what the UN calls “credible allegations” that up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the final stages of the separatist war.

Rajapakse suggested on Friday that Pillay had pre-judged Sri Lanka even before she had written her report into her visit.

During a meeting with Pillay, the president told the rights official that Sri Lanka believes the United Nations is a biased organisation, a statement from his office said after the talks.