Friday, 20 May, 2022
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Sri Lanka vows to fix ‘misconceptions’ over rights record

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's president vowed Tuesday to change "misconceptions" of his country's human rights record, following years of international criticism over wartime atrocities and extrajudicial killings, reports AFP.

Government troops were accused of systematic abuses during the island's decades-long separatist war against the Tamil Tigers insurgent group, including the killing of at least 40,000 civilians at the end of the conflict in 2009.

Sri Lanka has consistently denied the allegations.

Authorities have also been blamed for the murder of journalists and activists over the years, and there have been several recent reports of criminal suspects being killed in police custody.

But President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who took office in 2019, said his government's slate was clean and suggested it had been the victim of unwarranted criticism from abroad. "We need to correct the misconceptions that have been taken to the international community in the past regarding our human rights," Rajapaksa said during an address to parliament.

"During my tenure, the government did not support any form of human rights violations. We will also not leave room for any such act in the future."

Since Rajapaksa was elected, several high-profile underworld figures have been shot dead in police custody, while other suspects have been detained for long periods without trial.

Rajapaksa was also the island's top defence official at the end of the war, under the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda.

Sri Lanka was censured by the UN Human Rights Council for failing to properly investigate grave human rights abuses at the end of the conflict.

Last month, Rajapaksa appointed as provincial governor an ex-Navy chief accused of participating in the abduction and murder of a dozen children, in a scheme to extort their wealthy families.

Sri Lanka is currently in the grips of a slow-burning economic crisis that has triggered food rationing and rolling electricity cuts.

The island was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government has struggled to finance critical imports as a result of dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Rajapaksa told parliament that the country needed to again attract tourists for the economy's sake, but did not announce any new measures to address Sri Lanka's predicament.

India offered its neighbour a $500 million loan to pay for urgent oil imports on Tuesday, after Sri Lanka's energy ministry warned the island would run out of fuel by the end of the month.