UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has reprimanded the Sri Lankan government, saying that democracy and the rule of law in the country are both threatened. The Sri Lankan president has accused the UN of being biased.
Speaking at the end of a week-long visit to probe war crimes in Sri Lanka, Pillay told reporters in the capital, Colombo, that she was worried about the rights situation in the country.
"I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new, vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction," the UN high commissioner for human rights said.
"The war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded," Pillay added.
Pillay cited the government's move three years ago to abolish provisions for independent police, judiciary and human rights commissions, and decision to give the president the power to appoint officials to the commissions, as examples of how the country was moving away from an independent justice system.
She said confidence in the independence of the judiciary had also been shaken by the impeachment of the chief justice earlier this year, and that several judicial appointments appeared to be politically motivated.
Pillay also called it "utterly unacceptable" that rights activists she spoke with during her mission had later been harassed by the police and military.
"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 said.
Pillay had publicly called for a war crimes investigation in the wake of the 26-year war between the government and separatist Tamil rebels, after the UN received what it called "credible allegations" that as many as 40,000 citizens were killed during the conflict's final stages.
During her fact-finding trip, Pillay visited former northern war zones in Jappna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee, and met leaders in Colombo.
A UN panel has placed most of the blame for atrocities and war crimes on the government, and the world body has issued two resolutions urging Sri Lanka to investigate killings and disappearances in the civil war, particularly towards its end four years ago.
The government has rejected the accusations of rights abuses, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa last month ordered an inquiry into mass disappearances.
On Friday, Rajapaksa told Pillay that Sri Lankans believed the UN to be a biased organization, and that Pillay's report would be based on pre-judgments.
Pillay is to report her findings to the UN Human Rights Council next month.
tj/ccp (Reuters, APE, AFP)