Visiting United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navanetham Pillay while stating that the Sri Lankan Government stuck to its commitment of allowing her to visit any part of the country, said there were signs of Sri Lanka becoming an authoritarian state.
“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,” she said.
“With self-censorship fuelled by fear, journalists report that there are articles they dare not write, and others their editors dare not print. Freedom of expression is under a sustained assault in Sri Lanka. I have called for the Right to Information Act to be adopted like in many of its neighbours in the SAARC region,” she said.
Contrary to speculation and assumption that she would issue a diplomatic and barren statement when she leaves, Ms. Pillay ensured that her stand was made clear before she left the country.
She said this was the longest mission she had undertaken to any part of the world and at the end of her seven-day visit pointed out that she was disturbed by reports of intimidation and surveillance on rights activists and priests who met her.
Reading out a lengthy statement at the media briefing held at the UN office in Colombo prior to answering questions from both local and foreign journalists, Ms. Pillay said the actions of the Police force were “extraordinary and over the top” and it was unlike what she had experienced during her visits to other post-conflict zones.
“I would now like to turn to a disturbing aspect of the visit, namely the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens who met me or planned to meet me. I have received reports that people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by the police or military officers both before and after I arrived there. In Trincomalee, several people I met were subsequently questioned about the content of our conversation,” she said in her statement.
She said she would be taking the issue “very seriously”.
She said her portrayal by three ministers and in some media reports as a “Tamil Tigress in the UN” was offensive. During the Q and A session, Ms. Pillay said the President had personally apologized to her for the statements made by the three ministers.
“Some media, ministers, bloggers and various propagandists in Sri Lanka have, for several years now, on the basis of my Indian Tamil heritage, described me as a tool of the LTTE. They have claimed I was in their pay, the “Tamil Tigress in the UN.” This is not only wildly incorrect, it is deeply offensive. This type of abuse has reached an extraordinary crescendo during this past week, with at least three Government Ministers joining in,” she said.
Ms. Pillay said she had made her stand clear on the LTTE, and described it as a “ruthless murderous organisation”, while urging the diaspora to desist from glorifying the organisation.
“LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives. In fact, my only previous visit to Sri Lanka was to attend a commemoration of the celebrated legislator, peacemaker and scholar Neelan Tiruchelvam, who was killed by an LTTE suicide bomb in July 1999. Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organization,” she said
Touching on every aspect of the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka, the UN Human Rights Chief broke down the issues in relation to the 27-year-old conflict and issues that concerned the entire country as a whole.
She spoke of the Welweriya incident, the militarisation of the North, the Welikada prisons massacre, rising religious tensions and other issues concerning Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
She said that confidence will be eroded among Sri Lankans and the community in Special Commissions and Army Court of Inquiries as many Commissions have “foundered” in the past.
“I also requested more information about the Courts of Inquiry appointed by the army to further investigate the allegations of civilian casualties and summary executions and suggested that appointing the army to investigate itself does not inspire confidence in a country where so many past
investigations and commissions of inquiry have foundered one way or another. Unless there is a credible national process, the calls for an international inquiry are likely to continue,” Ms. Pillay said.
She also said that she was " surprised" by the governments 'playing down' of growing religious discord by way of attacks on 'churches and mosques' and urged the authoirities to take action against the perpetrators.
" I was suprised because the government told me that they were isolated incidents, when we have reports flowing in which suggest otherwise" she said answering a question posed by a journalist