Sri Lanka bars US envoy as president lashes out at proposed UN war crimes resolution

Colombo bars entry to US envoy as Mahinda Rajapaksa warns it would be a 'grave crime' to bring charges against his administration over civil war against the Tamil Tigers that ended in 2009

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 3:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 February, 2014, 4:42pm

Sri Lanka has refused a top US rights official entry to the country, just days after another senior envoy alleged Colombo’s rights record was deteriorating, the US embassy said on Tuesday.

US ambassador at large for women’s issues Catherine Russell was due to visit Sri Lanka ahead of a UN Human Rights Council meeting next month at which Colombo is predicted to face fresh censure.

A US embassy spokesman said it was “regrettable” Colombo had refused to grant Russell a visa for the planned visit this month.

“Ambassador Russell’s mandate is to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world,” the spokesman said.

The refusal came after Nisha Biswal, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters on Saturday the US was concerned about the worsening human rights situation, during her visit to the island.

At the end of the two-day trip, Biswal also said the US was worried about a weakening of the rule of law and an increase in corruption levels and impunity in Sri Lanka since a 37-year conflict ended in May 2009.

Sri Lanka rejected the comments as “patently unfair” and accused Biswal of wanting to believe the worst about the island.

Another US envoy, war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp, stirred controversy in Sri Lanka last month by visiting a former battleground.

There was no immediate comment from Colombo over the refusal to grant Russell a visa.

“The US will continue to raise important issues related to gender-based violence, the impact that the conflict had on families [particularly female headed households], the need for greater economic empowerment by women, and for greater political participation by women across Sri Lanka,” the embassy spokesman said.

Sri Lanka is under increasing international pressure to probe its own troops over allegations they killed thousands of civilians in the final stages of the war.

But president Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Tuesday that it would be a “grave crime” if anyone brings war crime allegations against his government over its conduct in the final months of the civil war, saying it would be a victory for forces opposed to peace on the island nation.

Rajapaksa did not mention any specific country in his Independence Day speech, but the US has said that it is frustrated at the lack of progress in post-war reconciliation and accountability.

“I see the allegations of war crimes attempted to be brought against Sri Lanka in Geneva as a victory for those who are opposed to peace, “said Rajapaksa, adding it was a “grave crime” to make such accusations based on information provided by “separatists and losers”.

Rajapaksa said the proposed resolution was against peace, justice and fairness.

Washington was expected to move a third resolution in as many years at next month’s UNHRC sessions against Colombo to nudge the island to improve its rights record.

Sri Lankan government forces declared victory nearly five years ago after wiping out the leadership of Tamil Tiger rebels in a no-holds-barred offensive.

At least 100,000 people were killed during the separatist war, according to UN figures.