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Sri Lanka ‘wavering’ on human rights: Zeid

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka new government may be wavering on its human rights commitments despite coming to power on a promise to ensure accountability to justice, the top UN human rights official said today.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said there was also a danger of extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka sabotaging the reconciliation process and taking the country back to conflict.

"I have heard fears that the government may be wavering on its human rights commitments," he said at the end of his four-day visit. "I was therefore reassured this morning to hear both the President and the Prime Minister state their firm conviction in this regard."

He said the atmosphere in the country had improved considerably compared to the 2013 visit by his predecessor Navi Pillay.

He said Pillay’s visit was marred by vituperative attacks on her integrity, simply because she addressed a number of burning human rights issues that any High Commissioner for Human Rights would have raised at that time.

"I am aware that some of the same people have given me a similar welcome – I’ve seen the posters – but I am pleased that in the new environment in Sri Lanka, all voices, including the moderate voices of civil society, can at last be heard."

However, he cautioned that voices of hatred and bigotry were still shouting the loudest, and as a result being listened to more than they deserved.

"Extreme nationalistic tendencies lay at the heart of Sri Lanka’s conflict, and they should not be allowed to undermine the country’s long term chances of recovery once again."

"It would be a great shame if a minority of extreme voices – on both sides – who are bent on disruption, were allowed to prevail by creating fear where there should be hope."

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He said the international community suggested international participation in a war crimes investigation because Sri Lanka’s judicial system had failed its people and it was necessary to build trust in any accountability process.

However, he left the door open for Colombo to have a purely domestic investigation by saying that it was up to the Sri Lankans to decide on a mechanism.

He said Sri Lanka’s rights record had improved, but more needed to be done.

"Virtually everyone agrees there has been progress, although opinions differ markedly about the extent of that progress."

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