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Sri Lanka bars US women’s rights envoy

COLOMBO, Feb 4, (Agencies): Sri Lanka has refused a top US women’s rights official entry to the country, just days after another senior envoy alleged Colombo’s rights record was deteriorating, the US embassy said Tuesday. US ambassador at large for women’s issues Catherine Russell was due to visit Sri Lanka ahead of a UN Human Rights Council meeting next month at which Colombo is due to face fresh censure. A US embassy spokesman said it was “regrettable” Colombo had refused to grant Russell a visa for the planned visit this month. “Ambassador Russell’s mandate is to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world,” the spokesman said. The refusal came after Nisha Biswal, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters on Saturday the US was concerned about the worsening human rights situation, during her visit to the island.

At the end of the two-day trip, Biswal also said the US was worried about a weakening of the rule of law and an increase in corruption levels and impunity in Sri Lanka since a 37-year conflict ended in May 2009. Sri Lanka rejected the comments as “patently unfair” and accused Biswal of wanting to believe the worst about the island. Another US envoy, war crimes investigator Stephen Rapp, stirred controversy in Sri Lanka last month by visiting a former battleground. There was no immediate comment from Colombo over the refusal to grant Russell a visa. “The US will continue to raise important issues related to gender based violence, the impact that the conflict had on families (particularly female headed households), the need for greater economic empowerment by women, and for greater political participation by women across Sri Lanka,” the embassy spokesman said.

Sri Lanka’s president said Tuesday that it would be a “grave crime” if anyone brings war crime allegations against his government over its conduct in the final months of a quarter-century civil war, saying it would be a victory for forces opposed to peace on the island nation. Mahinda Rajapakse did not mention any country in an Independence Day speech, but the United States has said that it is frustrated at Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in post-war reconciliation and accountability and says it will bring a third resolution to the United Nations human rights body calling on Sri Lanka to do more. Details of the resolution have not been revealed.

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