Sri Lanka’s most influential friends including India should come out with a firm response against the island nation’s recent treatment of the United Nations and its increasing intolerance of dissent, the Elders, a group of global leaders have said.
The Elders, an independent group of leaders founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, while welcoming the end of the decades-long civil war, said the meaningful progress on reconciliation in Sri Lanka was "still desperately needed."
They described the international response to Sri Lanka’s worrying approach to human rights and accountability as 'deafening global silence' that may encourage other states to act in a similar way.
The Elders – which includes former UN chief, Kofi Annan, former US President Jimmy Carter and India’s women’s rights activist, Ela Bhatt – said signs of post-civil war progress were tainted by intolerance of debate or dissent and a culture that protects those close to the government.
"The Elders now believe that the Sri Lankan government’s domestic conduct, as well as its recent unacceptable treatment of the United Nations in Sri Lanka warrants a firm, public response from its most influential friends – particularly China, India, Japan and the United States as well as the non-aligned group of countries," the statement said.
The statement mentioned, among several points, the "persecution, intimidation, assassination and disappearance of government critics, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders" and the "ongoing detention of an estimated 8,000 suspected ex-combatants without charge or access to legal representation, their families or independent monitors,’’ as particularly worrying aspects.
The Elders’ statement came even as Prime Minister DM Jayaratne announced in Parliament that troops arrested over 1,500 Tamil rebel suspects from state-run shelters during July, more than a year after the separatists were crushed militarily.
"We need to maintain emergency laws to ensure the safety and security of the nation," Jayaratne said.
Sri Lanka has resisted international calls including from the Elders to end the state of emergency saying that Tiger remnants were trying to regroup.