Mend your ways please, US envoy tells Sri Lanka

Colombo, April 9 (IANS) Sri Lanka needs to get serious about post-war reconciliation and account for war crimes if it needs to avoid grief, US Ambassador Michele J. Sison has said.

Painting a grim picture of the situation in Sri Lanka, Sison told the Foreign Correspondents Club here Monday that Colombo should stop treating calls for reconciliation and accountability as foreign “exhortations”.

“History has shown that societies that do not adequately address reconciliation and accountability usually return to a conflict situation at some point down the road,” she said.

“Thus, however difficult this process is, it is ultimately vital to the stability of Sri Lanka.”

Sison explained at length why the US, despite being a friend of Sri Lanka, piloted a resolution critical of Colombo in 2012 and again in March this year at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She urged the government to talk to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) “on political devolution”, return to owners property taken by the military, and resolve outstanding land claim issues.

“The people of the former conflict zones must be able to live their lives without interference, as do other citizens of Sri Lanka,” she said, referring to the island’s northeast where the military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

The US, the ambassador said, always spoke up when democratic values were threatened.

She voiced American concern about threats against and attacks on the Sri Lankan media and pointed out that while several prominent journalists had fled the country, attacks on others remain unresolved.

“Suspects are rarely apprehended or, if apprehended, are almost never convicted,” Sison said.

She asked the Sri Lankan government to “fully investigate” last week’s attack in Kilinochchi town on the office of the Tamil newspaper Udhayan and “hold the perpetrators accountable”.

She also expressed alarm over the recent attacks on Muslim businesses and “certain inflammatory calls to action”. “This type of hateful sentiment must not be allowed to fester.”

Sison did not hide the US “disappointment with the stalled progress on reconciliation and accountability since the end of the conflict in 2009”, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was militarily routed.

The ambassador explained that the 2012 UNHRC resolution had “simply asked Sri Lanka to fulfil its own commitments to its people from its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report”.

But this did not happen, she said.

The government failed to implement even the National Action Plan, which did not cover all the recommendations of the LLRC, just as the LLRC didn’t address all outstanding issues of reconciliation and accountability.

Sison admitted that issues of reconciliation and accountability in war torn societies take years to complete.

“But it is important to start those processes as soon as possible, and to accomplish what it is possible quickly,” she said.

“There were a number of items in the LLRC report and National Action Plan which could have, in fact, been achieved quite quickly.”

Accountability, she said, means identifying those responsible for committing abuses and imposing consequences for acts or omissions.

Sri Lanka is under widespread attack for overlooking the thousands of deaths of Tamil civilians during the final stages of the war against the LTTE — and for allegedly killing many combatants in cold blood.

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