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Sri Lanka: New government must make human rights a priority after mostly peaceful vote

Sri Lanka’s new government must urgently address a legacy of pressing human rights issues left by the previous administration, Amnesty International said today.

Outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa today conceded defeat to the joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena, who won the presidential poll with 51.3 per cent of the vote. The election was largely peaceful, despite intimidation of opposition activists ahead of yesterday.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director David Griffiths said:

“Although the campaign was marked by intimidation and attacks primarily against opposition campaigners, it was heartening to see the election day passed largely without violence.

“The lack of accountability for past human rights violations has been the tragic norm in Sri Lanka over the past decade. Tens of thousands of victims and family members are still waiting for the justice they deserve and the new administration must work to deliver it.

“Sri Lanka has for years resisted all international efforts to investigate the conflict years, and instead relied on domestic investigation bodies that toed the government line. This has to end – the new government should cooperate fully with the UN investigation.”

In a human rights agenda aimed at the presidential candidates, Amnesty highlighted seven key issues the new administration must make a priority. These include the repeal of the 18th constitutional amendment, which undermines judicial independence and other human rights safeguards by placing key state institutions into the hands of the President, and the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act, which grants security forces sweeping powers to violate human rights. Maithripala Sirisena had committed to repealing the 18th constitutional amendment as part of his campaign.

The human rights agenda also calls on the government to safeguard freedom of expression and end the repressive environment for journalists and human rights defenders; and put a halt to attacks on religious minorities.

A UN-led inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during Sri Lanka’s armed conflict is due to present its findings at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015.

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