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Thursday June 30th, 2022

Sri Lanka says HRW report paints negative, exaggerated picture of rights situation

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the latest report by the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) has depicted an exaggerated and unduly negative picture of the current human rights situation in the country.

The HRW in its World Report 2022 said, under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, “Sri Lankan security forces harassed and threatened human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and the families of victims of past abuses, while suppressing peaceful protests”.

It also said the government “continued to target members of the Tamil and Muslim minority communities using the country’s overbroad counter terrorism law, and policies that threaten religious freedom and minority land rights.”

The report also criticised Rajapaksa for military control as a pandemic response and for pardoning his political ally Duminda Silva, who had been “convicted for the 2011 murder of a rival politician”.

Responding to the report, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the island nation follows a policy of constructive engagement with the international community including international NGOs such as HRW on matters relating to human rights and it recognises their constructive roles as human rights defenders.

“However, sensationalised and biased reporting during a particularly challenging global economic and social environment risks igniting and aggravating domestic discord,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We highlight the importance of responsible, balanced and impartial reporting.”

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) has been trying to engage international bodies such as the United Nations and other human rights groups while facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, analysts say.

The foreign ministry said Sri Lanka is engaged in pursuing sustainable peace, through an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process, as Foreign Minister G L Pieris had previously said at the last UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting.

“Sri Lanka also reiterated its long standing commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in line with our own constitution and our international obligations,” it said.

President Rajapaksa in his policy statement to parliament last Monday (18) said there have been no human rights violations in Sri Lanka on his watch, a claim disputed by rights activists.

“…the Government has made important progress in delivering on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights as undertaken before the people of Sri Lanka and reiterated internationally,” the foreign ministry said.

“The work of the independent domestic institutions – the Office of Missing Persons, the Office of Reparations, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation and the Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka is an important supportive pillar of this effort.”

The ministry said in its response to HRW that the government has highlighted progress made in recent months relating to a number of areas such as amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), accountability, release of detainees held under the PTA, freedom of association, the pandemic and proposed amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.

The Ministry said Sri Lanka will continue its long-standing cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms as well as with the council. The country is delivering on its commitment to address accountability and reconciliation through domestic processes and institutions, it added. (Colombo/Jan24/2022)

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