US report says corruption at highest levels of Lankan Govt remains significant problem

The latest 2023 Country Report on Human Rights Practices released by the US Department of State has highlighted the Sri Lankan Government’s failure to take action against officials who have committed human rights abuses.

The report released this week said the Sri Lankan Government took minimal steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.

“Impunity remained a significant problem characterised by a lack of accountability for abuses, particularly regarding Government officials, military, paramilitary, police, and other security-sector officials,” the report noted.

The report also outlined the concerns of civil society organisations that the Government, including the courts, was reluctant to act against security forces alleged to be responsible for abuses.

The report said though the country’s constitution and law prohibited torture and cruel treatment or punishment there were credible reports that Government officials employed such practices.

“As in previous years, arrestees reported torture and mistreatment, forced confessions, and denial of basic rights, such as access to lawyers or family members. Anecdotally, male arrestees more often reported facing torture than female arrestees,” it noted.

It also outlined that while Sri Lankan law provided criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the Government did not implement the law effectively. “There were numerous reports of Government corruption during the year,” it said.

“Corruption remains a significant and continuing problem, including at the highest levels of government. International companies frequently reported requests for bribes on matters ranging from customs clearances to Government procurement,” the report added.

The report also highlighted that little progress was made during the year in the cases of 25 individuals charged with perpetrating the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

Concerning the media, it said there were reports of harassment and intimidation of journalists covering sensitive topics. “Some journalists, including citizen journalists, reported harassment, threats, intimidation, and interference from members of state security services, especially when reporting on topics related to the civil war or its aftermath, including missing persons,” it noted.

Among the many other human rights issues raised by the report were credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the Government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrest or detention and serious problems with the independence of the judiciary.

The report also highlighted concerns regarding serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly, serious Government corruption and crimes involving violence targeting Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Tamils among others.

The US Department of State released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on 22 April amidst the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report emphasised several new commitments, including to renew investments around the world in democracy and human rights, to help protect human rights defenders online, and to advance racial and gender justice in the United States.

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