Impunity persists amid reforms in Sri Lanka

New York, Jan 27 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government that took office a year ago ended the pervasive culture of surveillance and censorship and embarked on reforms aimed at undoing years of increasingly authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

While it opened dialogues both domestically and abroad, the government still faces key concerns, including wartime accountability and prolonged detention without trial, the rights group said in its World Report 2016.
A Human Rights Watch official said: “Sri Lanka’s new government has begun to address some of the country’s chronic human rights problems, but much remains to be done.
“The pervasive culture of fear is largely gone and positive measures have been adopted, but the previous government’s disastrous restructuring of independent state institutions needs to be fully dismantled.”
The report said the government of President Maithripala Sirisena initiated a series of constitutional reforms, including establishing a constitutional council and restoring the independence of the judiciary, police, and human rights commissions.
Civil society groups are once again able to speak out safely on issues of concern. In December, the government signed the UN Convention against Enforced Disappearance, a step toward tackling a massive decades-long problem.
But the government has yet to fulfill its pledge to abolish the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), it said.
Authorities agreed to release some PTA detainees on bail, “rehabilitate” others, and prosecute the remainder, but arrests under the PTA continued throughout the year, it said.
In August, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a scathing report on unlawful attacks, killings, torture, sexual violence, and attacks on relief aid by both sides during the civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that ended in 2009.
At the Human Rights Council in October 2015, member states including Sri Lanka endorsed a consensus resolution calling on Colombo to implement the report’s many recommendations, including to establish a special counsel to investigate and prosecute alleged wartime abuses, and to include foreign judges and prosecutors in a Sri Lankan tribunal.