Acknowledging “important improvements” in the overall situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty on Wednesday said it was now time for the government to act, after it recently got a two-year extension at the UN Human Rights Council to fulfil its commitments.
Drawing from a report that Amnesty released earlier this week on enforced disappearances, Mr. Shetty said: “Families of the disappeared have spent years, sometimes decades, waiting for answers. The government can delay no longer.” Urging the government to swiftly operationalise the Office On Missing Persons and to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Mr. Shetty emphasised that Sri Lanka would not be able to break away from its violent past until families of the disappeared “get the truth they demand and the justice they deserve”.
In addition to questions on accountability and militarisation, people in the north constantly underscored poverty and the loss of livelihoods, particularly among women-headed households, Mr. Shetty observed. “Often, this was closely linked to land… these are people whose land is their livelihood,” he said, even as hundreds in the island’s north and east are protesting for their land, currently held by the military, to be returned.
On the sidelines of the press conference, Mr. Shetty told The Hindu geopolitical dynamics had a direct bearing on the nature of engagement of international actors. The fact that there was now a UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Sri Lanka was positive. “But once it comes into the domestic sphere, I am not sure how much influence the U.S. or anybody else has.”
Also, the “international community” — often a euphemism for “northern western powers” — was compromised, the secretary general said. “Post 9-11, they have taken many shortcuts, and made huge compromises on migration and refugee issues,” Mr. Shetty noted, adding that the western powers were often willing to trade off human rights for economic interests.(The Hindu)