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UN Rapporteur notes mounting frustration in Sri Lanka

(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) –  The UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák-Ndiaye says there is mounting frustration in Sri Lanka with the pace of progress in the accountability process.

In a report on Sri Lanka submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ahead of its 34th session in Geneva, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye said that to achieve peaceful coexistence after the long, devastating civil war, a comprehensive, well-planned and well-coordinated truth, reconciliation, healing and accountability process must take place, and it cannot be done overnight.

However, almost two years after the change of Government, the Special Rapporteur notes the mounting frustrations with the pace of progress.

“It is important for the Government to put in place some immediate, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the country’s minorities,” she said in the report.

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye says the specific policy interventions to address the needs of different minority groups should be based on accurate data that are disaggregated by, inter alia, gender, ethnicity, language and religious affiliation.

“Such data are crucial to highlight the vulnerability of the different population groups, including those that face multiple forms of discrimination, and enable legislators and policymakers to establish targeted programmes. Census questions should allow open and multiple responses that enable respondents to self-identify according to their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic affiliation, including multiple identities,” she says.

As a matter of priority, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye says the Government must continue and step up the release to the civilian populations of the remaining 6,124 acres of the land currently held by the military in the North as well as other lands and coastal areas occupied by the military.

“A proper mapping exercise of all the lands currently occupied by the military must take place, and lands currently not in use or whose use cannot be adequately justified for military purposes must be returned without delay to their rightful owners in a condition that is usable. Where private lands have been acquired without due process or compensation, these lands must be returned and/or compensated for. Demilitarization of the North and East is not only urgent for its practical implications such as the livelihood of the local population, but required for symbolic purposes. With police powers having been transferred back from the army to civilian control, it will be important for the police to reflect the ethnic and linguistic composition of the local population to overcome practical barriers and rebuild trust,” she added.

While the country is undergoing an important reconciliation process, with constitutional reform and transitional justice and policymaking, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye says the devastating impact of the war and violence on psychological well-being cannot continue to be ignored.

She also notes that past acts of repression of culture and expression, ethnic intolerance and discrimination, as well as the crimes and violations committed during the conflict and the prevailing impunity, have severely damaged social and cultural norms and feelings of identity, belonging and trust.

Therefore, she says the Government should also consider supporting psychosocial programmes and counseling and support interventions to help victims, especially women, overcome the trauma, which often manifests in complex and intertwined physical, emotional and mental health complications.

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