The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Friday she has an “open mind” and will not be “pre-judging anything” ahead of her first trip to Sri Lanka, which is under growing pressure from the international community to address alleged war crimes.
Navi Pillay, who arrives in Sri Lanka on Sunday for a week, is the first senior U.N. official to visit the country since the end of a nearly three-decade-long bloody conflict in 2009, despite Colombo extending an invitation to the body more than two years ago.
“I want to see for myself the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort, but also what progress is being made towards accountability and reconciliation,” U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Pillay, a South African national of Indian Tamil origin, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email interview.
“I am not pre-judging anything. There are clearly plenty of issues to discuss, including some worrying ones, and some more positive developments. I am going with an open mind and I plan to give a balanced preliminary assessment of my own impressions at the end of my visit,” she added.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has in recent weeks established a commission to investigate disappearances and criminal proceedings have begun against 12 elite police commandos who are suspects in the high-profile killing of five Tamil students during the war.
Pillay said she wanted to find out more about the commission and discuss what was being done about the massacre of 17 aid workers from the charity Action Contre La Faim (ACF) seven years ago.
“I will be interested to learn more about the plans for this commission, as well as long overdue investigations into the killings of the ACF staff and of the five students on the beach in Trincomalee which also took place in 2006,” she said.
“I would like to see similar investigations into other grave violations of human rights that remain unresolved in Sri Lanka,” Pillay added.
Pillay’s visit comes ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November, and observers say Sri Lanka will be hoping her findings help Rajapaksa gain more credibility overseas on human rights issues.
During her visit, Pillay will travel to the war-ravaged Northern and Eastern Provinces, and is expected to meet with government officials, opposition parties, civil society groups as well as survivors of the conflict.
She will also be looking into reports of violent attacks on religious minorities and assessing freedom of expression and assembly, the difficulties faced by the media and human rights defenders, the independence of the judiciary and political participation.
Pillay will provide a spoken update on Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council in September, and a full formal report in March 2014, in accordance with the resolution adopted by the Council earlier this year.