The United Nations announced last week that it would launch a mission to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka. The body’s Human Rights Council approved a mandate to collect evidence saying that “trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka.”
DW’s Tim Sebastian spoke with the Sri Lankan Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Jayanath Colombage, on the UN’s upcoming investigation. The secretary insisted that his country’s government takes the issue seriously: “No one else is [more] interested in human rights than Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka.”
Colombage told Conflict Zone that while progress had been made in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s 25-year old civil war 12 years ago, work still needed to be done.
“We had a war for one generation, and it takes time to heal completely,” he said from Colombo.
Colombage told Sebastian he would not comment on the specifics of a controversial pardon by the president of a soldier.
“The president will never, ever take the side of a criminal,” Colombage said.
The former admiral pointed out that thousands of former Tamil insurgents had been pardoned as well and that child soldiers had been reintegrated rather than prosecuted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in sectarian tension in the country, with the government initially decided to insist that victims of the virus be cremated, which outraged Sri Lanka’s Muslim population.
The foreign secretary insisted the decision was not “political” but driven by “science” and that “now we have corrected it.”
In the wake of the 2019 Easter bombings in which churches and hotels were targeted, Sri Lanka implemented harsh new counterterrorism procedures, which led to what the United Nations concerns about arbitrary detention in the country. Colombage insisted the measures were necessary in the wake of the bombings: “It would have been utter chaos” without the authority to detain suspects, he told Sebastian.
The coordinated Jihadi suicide bombings claimed nearly 300 lives and injured more than 500 people.
“There is a lot of evidence surfacing regarding the Easter bombing,” the foreign secretary insisted.
Sebastian asked Colombage why the Sri Lankan president had sought to stoke sectarian anxiety by implying the Sinhalese were being “threatened with destruction.”
Colombage said, “In the same statement if I remember right, he made it very clear that he is the president for all communities, all people in this country.”