COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A senior United States diplomat said on Saturday that Sri Lanka’s government has made little progress on justice, reconciliation and accountability more than four years after the end of the civil war, as the U.S. prepares to press that government at the U.N.’s top human rights body.
Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal said lack of progress has frustrated her government and the international community.
“Patience of the international community is wearing thin…..” Biswal told reporters at the American Centre in the capital Colombo, at the end of her visit on Saturday, adding that the U.S. will sponsor a resolution asking Sri Lanka to do more on reconciliation and accountability at the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.
During her visit, Biswal met senior government officials, opposition political leaders, civil society representatives.
Her visit comes two months ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council review of Sri Lanka’s progress in probing alleged war crimes. The U.S. has successfully carried two resolutions at the United Nations Human Rights Council urging Sri Lanka to conduct its own investigation into war crimes allegations against both government troops and the separatist Tamil rebels.
Biswal said US has always supported a Sri Lankan process to resolve the issues emanating from the conflict. But she said she told senior Sri Lankan government officials about the “insufficient progress” in addressing justice, reconciliation and accountability, after the war’s end.
She said the new resolution will call on Sri Lanka “to do more to promote reconciliation, democratic governance, justice and accountability….” But she declined to discuss the text of the resolution, saying it is too early.
While Sri Lanka has enjoyed relative peace since then, it hasn’t satisfied concerns, principally from Western nations, over the fate of tens thousands of Tamil civilians in the final months of the war in 2009, when government forces were closing in on Tamil Tiger rebels cornered on a sliver of land in the island’s northeast.
A U.N. report previously said as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians died, mostly in government attacks, but Sri Lanka denies such a high toll and has repeatedly denied it deliberately targeted civilians.
For two years after the war, Sri Lanka’s government insisted that not a single civilian was killed. But later in 2011 it acknowledged some civilian deaths and announced a census of the war dead but its results were vague.
Government troops were accused of deliberately shelling civilians, hospitals and blocking food and medical aid to hundreds of thousands of people boxed inside a tiny strip of land as the rebels mounted their last stand. The government denies the charges. The rebels were accused of holding civilians as human shields, killing those who escaped their control and recruiting child soldiers.
In November, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would call for a U.N.-backed investigation into allegations of war crimes unless there was progress on postwar reconciliation by March, when the U.N. Human Rights Council holds a bi-annual session
U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay has said she would recommend that the council establish its own probe if Sri Lanka fails to show progress by March.
Biswal also expressed concern about the worsening human rights situation including the continued attacks against religious minority, weakening of the rule of law, increased levels of corruption and impunity.
Lalith Weeratunga, secretary to the Sri Lanka’s president and his point man on the government’s own reconciliation efforts, early this week in Washington, denied targeting civilians by the government forces and said government had only 18 months to implement the recommendations of it’s own reconciliation commission.
Weeratunga warned that if that process was mishandled, it could trigger renewed conflict.