Sri Lanka Scolds Foreign Envoys Over Human Rights Statements

Sri Lanka has been calling in foreign diplomats to express what the Foreign Ministry calls its "deep displeasure" over remarks by the diplomats' countries about the Sri Lankan human rights situation. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from our South Asia bureau in New Delhi.

Both the Sri Lankan government and ethnic Tamil rebels have been accused of serious human rights violations since the resumption of their decades-long civil war.

But Sri Lanka is particularly unhappy at remarks, critical of the government, made earlier this week by a number of countries before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbor accused Sri Lanka's domestic institutions of not being able to safeguard human rights.

On Thursday and Friday, the Foreign Ministry summoned top diplomats of the countries that spoke in Geneva, to express Colombo's displeasure.

In a statement issued Friday, the Foreign Ministry said the accusations made in Geneva do not reflect the "steady decline of the level of violations" recorded by "independent and highly reliable sources."

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona tells VOA News he summoned the diplomats to inform them of Colombo's views on human rights.

"They have to be sensitized to what we feel about the whole situation, because our whole objective is to work with the international community, not to confront the international community. Our goal is to achieve the best human rights standards in this country," said Kohona.

Top-ranking diplomats of the United States, the European Union, France, South Korea and Sweden were summoned on Thursday. A similar summons went to envoys from Canada and the Netherlands on Friday. Sri Lanka says it will express its displeasure to New Zealand through that nation's embassy in New Delhi.

The Foreign Ministry statement says "deep displeasure" was expressed to Britain's high commissioner in Sri Lanka, for British comments in Geneva that Colombo interpreted as sympathetic to the Tamil rebels' demand for an independent ethnic homeland.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as the rebels are formally known, have waged a violent separatist campaign since the mid-1970s, including assassinations of top government officials in Sri Lanka and India.

Foreign Secretary Kohona says the meetings with the envoys have been positive.

"They were all business-like meetings," said Kohona. "The idea was not to create a confrontation but to explain the factual situation on the ground. And some of the ambassadors did indicate that their representatives in Geneva had prepared their statements without actually consulting the ambassadors in Colombo."

The off-and-on again civil war has left dead tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians. Several hundred thousand more people have been displaced from their homes.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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