After decades of brutal civil war and reports of torture and extra-judicial killings, the Sri Lankan Government is trying to put the past behind it and present the country as progressive and prosperous.
More than 100,000 people are believed to have died between 1983 and 2009, in the fighting between Tamil separatists and Government forces.
A report prepared by the United Nations last year found extensive and endemic patterns of extra-judicial killings, abductions, unlawful arrests, torture and sexual violence committed by Government forces and paramilitary organisations over many years.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is currently visiting New Zealand for the first time and spoke to media at the weekend.
He said his Government had set up an agency to try to locate the estimated 65,000 people who went missing during the war.
And he said he was dealing with the controversial anti-terrorism legislation, which critics said allowed the Government to indefinitely detain people without charge.
“I think by next week the first draft of the counter terrorism law, which will replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act will available for discussion.
“A number of detainees have been released, even some who have been charged we have released.”
Wickremesinghe said the mood in Sri Lanka had changed dramatically over the past few years.
“It’s a very very relaxed atmosphere there, it’s a quite open society today and fear is no longer a factor. We hope by next March that we’ll have all this behind us.”
Prime Minister John Key said the two leaders discussed human rights in Sri Lanka in great detail when they met and he believed the country was on the right track.
“I could experience that first hand when I went there earlier in the year and we are very confident about what we see in terms of what has been a very difficult period for Sri Lanka prior to the Prime Minister’s administration about the reforms.”
Hundreds of members of Auckland’s Sri Lankan community packed out the Mt Albert Memorial Hall to see Ranil Wickremesinghe when he visited on Saturday.
He spoke briefly and answered questions from community members who seemed happy with the changes he was making in Sri Lanka.
Labour’s David Shearer, who was at the event at Mt Albert Hall, worked in Sri Lanka for Save the Children from 1989 to 1991.
He said it did seem like the new Government was turning over a new leaf.
“It’s changing the constitution, it’s looking at the way it governs itself and trying to bring people together, so I’m cautiously optimistic.
“Obviously you can get a change in Government back again but if the reforms can be dug in and take hold, then I think we’ll have a very different Sri Lanka.”
Ranil Wickremesinghe has events in Wellington today, before flying out later this evening. (Colombo Gazette)