CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 November 2018

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Sri Lanka quizzes priest after talk with United Nations

COLOMBO (UCAN): Security personnel questioned Father Veerasan Yogeswaran, a Jesuit priest who runs the Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in northeastern Sri Lanka after meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, during the last week of August.

Father Yogeswaran received a late night visit from five police at his office in Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of Colombo, and was questioned about a meeting he had with the UN rights heavyweight, who was on a fact-finding mission in Sri Lanka.

“When security forces come late at night and question, people will be very embarrassed,” the 63-year-old Jesuit said. “What will be the plight of the poor public when the security personnel come to their houses at night?”

Pillay has strongly denounced the intimidation of people she had spoken to during her week-long fact finding mission to probe alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“I have received reports about the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists and many ordinary citizens who met with me,” she said on August 31.

“This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced. Utterly unacceptable at any time, it is particularly extraordinary for such treatment to be meted out during a visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” she pointed out.

“I wish to stress that the UN takes the issue of reprisals against people, because they have talked to UN officials, as an extremely serious matter and I will be reporting those that take place in connection with this visit to the Human Rights Council,” Pillay promised.

“I urge the government of Sri Lanka to issue immediate orders to halt this treatment of human rights defenders and journalists who face this kind of harassment and intimidation on a regular basis,” she said.

The Centre for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights gives assistance to families of people who went missing during the three-decade civil war.

A senior constitutional lawyer, J.C. Weliamuna, was reported as saying that people must be free to meet and discuss any matter pertaining to human rights with the UN chief.

“If the government is not respecting this right, this clearly raises the question of the bona fides of the government,” he said.

Pillay’s reports have been attacked by the minister for External Affairs, G.L. Peiris, who said the tone and substance showed a distressing lack of balance.

He said that the government of Sri Lanka had invited Pillay in the interest of transparency and visibility, stressing that it had also allowed her free access to any part of the country or facility she wished to visit.

 

Peiris criticised the UN chief, saying that she provided no basis for her allegation in the report that the government is guilty of war crimes during the conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

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