Sri Lanka rejects 'reckless' U.S. criticism of its rights record

COLOMBO Sun Feb 2, 2014 3:28pm EST

Nisha Desai Biswal, U.S. assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, gestures during a news conference in Colombo February 1, 2014. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Nisha Desai Biswal, U.S. assistant secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, gestures during a news conference in Colombo February 1, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka rejected U.S. criticism of its human rights record as "grossly disproportionate" on Sunday, a day after a senior U.S. official said Washington would table a U.N. resolution against Colombo.

Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal expressed frustration on Saturday over Sri Lanka's failure to punish military personnel responsible for atrocities in a civil war that the government won in 2009 against separatist Tamil rebels.

Biswal, speaking in Colombo after a two-day visit, said the United States would table a third U.N. human rights resolution against Sri Lanka in March to address the war crimes allegations as its human rights climate has been worsening.

"The (U.S.) claims... are unsubstantiated. Reckless and irresponsible statements without evidence have been recoursed to in order to create an impact to give way to prejudged action," Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

In her criticism, Biswal also referred to attacks on mosques and churches on the island and said some Sri Lankans felt unable to practice their faith "freely and without fear".

Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese are largely Buddhist and its ethnic Tamil minority is mainly Hindu. The country also has small Christian and Muslim minorities.

"POLITICALLY MOTIVATED"

The ministry said claims of religious intolerance were based on an attempt to present isolated incidents as commonplace.

"Attributing blame to the government is totally unwarranted.

While legal action has been taken with regard to some incidents, others have been settled amicably. Therefore, the criticism is grossly disproportionate and politically motivated," it said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, which finally crushed the 26-year rebellion by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, has rejected calls for an international inquiry, saying these were aimed at pleasing a large Tamil diaspora living in Western countries.

Senior U.S. officials declined to say what would be in the planned UN resolution, but U.S. embassy officials said it may repeat the call for an international investigation in Sri Lanka.

The External Affairs Ministry said that, as a sovereign democratic state, Sri Lanka "does not wish to be dictated to by others in the international community".

A top Sri Lankan official said in Washington last week that an international inquiry into war crimes would bring "chaos" and insisted that the government's national reconciliation process must be given several more years to work.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would push for an international inquiry into war crimes allegations if Sri Lanka does not conduct its own probe by March.

A U.N. panel has said around 40,000 mainly Tamil civilians died in the final few months of the war. Both sides committed atrocities, but army shelling killed most victims, it concluded.

Tamil Tiger rebels, known for their use of child soldiers and suicide bombings, battled government forces from 1983.

(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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