Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: US diplomat renews calls to halt rights violations

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

COLOMBO, 10 May 2007 (IRIN) - A senior US diplomat expressed concern on Thursday over worsening human rights violations in Sri Lanka and renewed pressure on the government to deliver on its promises to curb abuses.

US State Department official Richard Boucher, ending a three-day visit to the island, said he was troubled by the deterioration since his last visit in October.

"People are more fearful and face more difficulties ... Overall, there has been a deterioration in Sri Lanka's human rights record," said Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs.

"We are very concerned," he said, adding that the US was calling for the Sri Lankan government to deliver on its pledges to protect human rights.

"As a democratically elected government, you have obligations to protect human rights, to hold people accountable for past abuses and to protect people from future abuses," Boucher told reporters.

Boucher met President Mahinda Rajapakse, who told him the government had to be vigilant about the security situation but assured him that it backed investigations into rights violations.

"President Rajapakse told Ambassador Boucher that the government was doing its best to ensure that there were no human rights violations and that all reports of human rights of violations were looked into," the president's office stated.

View from the ground

Boucher said he had discussed with the president the floundering 2002 ceasefire agreement brokered by Norway, the issue of media freedom and the increase in violence.

He flew to the embattled northern Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday and met government officials, aid workers, the clergy and members of civil society.

"Lots of people are worried about their security, afraid of the abductions and killings that are going on ... More needs to be done to create a climate where people can be safe," Boucher said of the situation in Jaffna.

The region is largely controlled by the state, which has a heavy military presence to hold back attempts by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to gain more territory in the north. The district, which was also hit by the 2004 tsunami, faces shortages of food, medicines and other essentials, with supply lines affected by the increased fighting.

News agency reports quoted aid workers saying they had raised the issue of abductions and lack of freedom of movement, while the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Saundranayagam, told Boucher international help was required to end the strife.

Rights groups have accused government troops, the LTTE and a paramilitary group allegedly backed by the security forces for growing numbers of extra-judicial murders, abductions, disappearances and the military recruitment of children.