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Praise without pressure - Newsletter, 2 November 2020

Sri Lanka’s prime minister and accused war criminal, Mahinda Rajapaksa featured as the ‘Chief Guest’ at a UN virtual event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the global body. Human Rights Watch called the move a “slap in the face for victims of human rights abuses and war crimes.” 
 

“Instead of focusing on them, the UN chose to honour one of the people implicated in their suffering, the country’s prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa…To add insult to injury, the government has opposed victims’ demands for justice- something the UN strongly supports,” the rights group said. 

 
Honouring Rajapaksa at the event makes a mockery of the victims of the war, Tamil civil society and UN human rights experts who have brought Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses to light. A local UN official in Sri Lanka responded to the condemnation by laughing at the concern expressed.
                                                  
Ahead of the US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo’s visit to Sri Lanka, Tamil families of the disappeared appealed to the Secretary of State to push the government to help find their disappeared family members. Pompeo who landed in Sri Lanka last week for a high-level meeting said he raised accountability and justice with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
 

“We can certainly work with them in the international flora to deliver on these ideas of reconciliation and accountability, but it will be ultimately Sri Lankan leadership and the Sri Lankan people which will have to work on this,” Pompeo stated in an interview. 
 

The European Union also announced that Sri Lanka will continue to benefit from the GSP+ trade preferences despite the island being in breach of many conventions. Sri Lanka has failed to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a key commitment made by Sri Lanka under the scheme and the UN Human Rights Council. However, the Rajapaksa administration have chosen to retain the legislation and withdraw the counter-terror legislation which was proposed to replace it. 
 
The Rajapaksa regime has repeatedly denied allegations of human rights abuses and instead vowed to protect war criminals. Former Air Force commander, and accused war criminal, Sumangala Dias has been appointed to become Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canada. This latest appointment demonstrates that Sri Lanka lacks the political will to deliver justice, as it continues to reward those responsible for grave human rights abuses. It is imperative that the international community stop praising Sri Lanka and ensure that they take steps for meaningful action, otherwise the culture of impunity will be further entrenched on the island. 
 
Earlier today, Sri Lankan police threatened activists at Tamil National People’s Front Head Office that they will be “taken away” if they attempted to commemorate Thamilselvan, who was assassinated by the Sri Lankan Air Force 13 years ago today.  This latest act of intimidation causes deep concern for what lies ahead as this month marks Maaveerar Naal, a day that is commemorated annually across the homeland. 
 

Sharmini, Staff Writer

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