Lanka needs more than post-war reconstruction
Sri Lanka has made immense post-war progress, but needs to address more than the physical reconstruction of the country, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham (Navi) Pillay.
Addressing a media conference in Colombo after a seven-day tour of the country for the first time since the end of Sri Lanka’s war against terror in 2009, Pillay said that a more holistic approach is needed for the country’s post-war progress.
“I understand the government’s concern that they (the resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts) have perhaps not been sufficiently recognised. However, physical reconstruction alone will not bring reconciliation, dignity, or lasting peace. Clearly, a more holistic approach is needed to provide truth, justice and reparations for people’s suffering during the war,” said Pillay.
In the same note Pillay acknowledged the efforts made in terms of resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation “in the relatively short period” since the end of Sri Lanka’s war.
“The reconstruction achievements are indeed impressive. In both the Eastern and Northern provinces, large numbers of new roads, bridges, houses, medical facilities and schools have been built or rebuilt; electricity and water supplies have been greatly improved; and most of the landmines have been removed. As a result, the great majority of the more than 450,000 people who were internally displaced at the end of the conflict have now gone home,” she said. Pillay made a number of observations on human rights issues in Sri Lanka voicing her fears over “an increasingly authoritarian direction... despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state.”
Addressing the recent surge in incitement of hatred and violence against religious minorities, including attacks on churches and mosques Pillay condemned the lack of swift action against the perpetrators.
“I was surprised that the government seemed to downplay this issue, and I hope it will send the strongest possible signal of zero tolerance for such acts and ensure that those responsible, who are easily identifiable on video footage, are punished,” she said. She also called for zero tolerance on sexual abuse, voicing her concern over the vulnerability of women and girls, especially in the thousands of female-headed households that remain after three decades of terrorism.
The human rights commissioner condemned the lack of freedom of expression in post war Sri Lanka, which she said she observed during her stay.
“There are a number of specific factors impeding normalisation, which - if not quickly rectified - may sow the seeds of future discord. These are by and large to do with the curtailment or denial of personal freedoms and human rights, or linked to persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law,” she said. The UN high commissioner who toured the former conflict zones in the North and East said she was moved by the profound trauma she witnessed among the relatives of the missing and the dead and the war survivors.
“Wounds will not heal and reconciliation will not happen, without respect for those who grieve, and remembrance for the tens of thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and others who died before their time on the battlefield, in buses, on the street, or in detention’” said Pillay.
“The LTTE (Tamil Tigers) was a murderous organisation that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives. Those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognise that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organisation.
“It is important everyone realises that, although the fighting is over, the suffering is not.”