in March 2014.
Ms Pillay undertook the visit on an invitation from the Sri Lankan government to seefor herself the progress that the country has made on post-war reconciliation. Theinvitation was made against the background of two resolutions on Sri Lanka in theHRC in two successive years. At the end of her week-long visit, she acknowledged thegovernment’s “excellent co-operation” in the planning and execution of a “complexmission,” her longest in any country, and praised it for honouring its commitment thatshe could go anywhere and meet anyone.Most of her other observations, though, were nowhere near as complimentary. In astatement to the media in Colombo at the end of her visit, the U.N. official gave morethan a hint of what her presentation in Geneva might contain. Ms Pillay’s bombshellconclusion from her week-long visit was that Sri Lanka was moving in an “increasingly authoritarian direction.”
Sri Lanka, which has been urged by the HRC to carry out a credible investigation intoallegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in thefinal stages of the war against the LTTE in 2009, has chosen to respond officially by accusing the U.N. of bias, denouncing Ms Pillay for making “political statements” andaccusing her of mission overreach.Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris dubbed Ms. Pillay as being “unfair, wrong and biased,”and said her statement showed a “disturbing absence of balance.” After a meeting between her and Mahinda Rajapaksa, a statement from the President’s office saidmany Sri Lankans thought of the U.N. as a “pessimistic organisation,” and that MsPillay’s report would contain “prejudged matters.” And in a speech to constituents notlong after her departure, Mr. Rajapaksa said he wondered how anybody could describea country that holds elections regularly — a round of provincial elections is being heldon September 21, in the north-western, central and for the first time, in the TamilNorthern province — as authoritarian.Ms Pillay’s concern though was not about the regularity of elections, but, as she madeamply clear, with the governance deficit that directly and adversely affects or violatespeople’s rights. And it was not as if she had to put herself out to find the evidence —even while she was in Sri Lanka, the military questioned several people she met andspoke to in Trincomalee and Mullaithivu. Describing such surveillance and harassmentas unacceptable conduct at any time and “extraordinary” while a U.N. rights official was visiting, she was clear she would report the matter to the HRC. Sure enough, inher opening speech at the 24th session on Monday, she flagged her concern about this.Differing only in the details and emphasis, her overall message to Sri Lanka was nodifferent from what even friends of the Rajapaksa government at home and abroadhave been saying in more diplomatic language since 2009: the end of the war is anopportunity; use it wisely — as Ms Pillay wished Sri Lanka had done — to construct anew “all-embracing” state.This was also the message in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC) that President Rajapaksa appointed in 2010, and whose report the governmentcommendably made public. Notably, both the 2012 and 2013 HRC resolutions praised