Sri Lanka says UN rights chief violated mandate

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka on Sunday said the United Nations human rights chief violated her mandate by making political statements during her recent visit that the government was heading in an authoritarian direction.

The Government Information Department said in a statement that the judgment of the country’s leadership is best left to the Sri Lankan people to decide, rather than being “caricatured by external entities influenced by vested interests.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Saturday concluded a weeklong visit to assess Sri Lanka’s rights situation during which she visited the country’s former civil war zone.

She issued a hard-hitting statement at the conclusion of her visit Saturday in which she said that democracy was being undermined and the rule of law eroded in Sri Lanka, with the country increasingly becoming an authoritarian state despite the end of a quarter-century insurgency by ethnic Tamil rebels four years ago.

She cited a move by the government three years ago to abolish independent police, judiciary and human rights commissions and give President Mahinda Rajapaksa the powers to appoint officials to these commissions. She also said a much-criticized impeachment of the country’s chief justice earlier this year and “apparent politicization of senior judicial appointments have shaken confidence in the independence of the judiciary.”

Pillay said she heard allegations of intrusive military involvement in civilian affairs, including education, agriculture and tourism, in the former war zone; the military’s acquisition of land from war victims to build bases and even a holiday resort; and sexual harassment of women and girls.

Pillay said that after she visited the former war zone in predominantly Tamil areas in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island nation she heard reports that some of the civilians and rights activists who spoke to her were later questioned by the military or police.

The U.N. considers this “an extremely serious matter,” she said.

Pillay’s visit followed a resolution in the U.N Human Rights Council in March which called on Sri Lanka to investigate more alleged war crimes committed by government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. The Tamil Tigers were fighting to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, claiming they faced discrimination from the Sinhalese majority.

A U.N. report has indicated that as many as 40,000 people may have been killed in the final phase of the civil war.

Pillay will report her findings to the council at the end of this month.

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