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US State Department report highlights militarisation and impunity in Sri Lanka

The United State’s State Department highlighted militarisation and impunity as significant human rights issues in Sri Lanka in its annual human rights report.

“The most significant human rights issues [in Sri Lanka in 2017] included unlawful killings; torture; sexual abuse; arbitrary arrest; lengthy detention; lack of property restitution by the military; and surveillance and harassment of civil society activists and journalists,” the report’s executive summary said.

“Government discrimination toward and security forces harassment of Tamils and nondenominational Christian groups persisted.”

“The military and police harassed civilians with impunity, and impunity for crimes committed during and since the armed conflict continued.”

Pointing out that steps had been taken to prosecute or punish some officials implicated in human rights abuses and that the Office of Missing Persons had been legally established, the State Department said the Sri Lankan government made “limited progress toward establishing additional transitional justice mechanisms”

On accountability, the report states:

“Impunity for conflict-era abuses also persisted, including military, paramilitary, police, and other security-sector officials implicated in cases involving the alleged targeted killing of parliamentarians, abductions, and suspected killings of journalists and private citizens. Civil society organizations asserted the government and the courts are largely reluctant to take action against security forces…”

The report also highlighted the harassment faced by a Tamil civil society organiser during Mullivaikkal remembrance last year:

“According to civil society, military intelligence operatives conducted domestic surveillance operations and harassed or intimidated members of civil society in conjunction with, or independent of, police. In May police reportedly harassed a Catholic priest in Mullaitivu following his efforts to memorialize local family members who died during the armed conflict.”

Describing issues around property restitution, the report describes military occupation of Tamil land and Sinhalisation and says,

“With the amount of remaining land in dispute, many of those affected by the HSZs complained that the pace at which the government demilitarized land was too slow and that the military held lands it viewed as economically valuable. Some religious minority groups reported they had difficulty officially claiming land they had long inhabited after Buddhist monks placed a statue of Buddha or a boddhi tree on their property.”