GENEVA: The UN on Friday warned that a range of serious abuses, including torture, appear to remain widespread in Sri Lanka and criticised the country's slow progress in addressing wartime crimes.
"A number of serious human rights violations... are reportedly continuing to occur in Sri Lanka, including the harassment or surveillance of human rights defenders and victims of violations, police abuse and excessive use of force," the UN human rights office said in a statement.
It expressed alarm while launching a report on Sri Lanka's progress in dealing with crimes committed during its 37-year Tamil separatist conflict that ended in 2009.
In particular, "the use of torture remains a serious concern," the report said, pointing to the nation's own Human Rights Commission's acknowledgement of complaints illustrating the "routine use of torture by the police throughout the country as a means of interrogation and investigation."
"The prevailing culture of impunity for perpetrating torture has undoubtedly contributed to this situation," the report said.
Such abuses are continuing even as Sri Lanka's "worryingly slow" progress addressing its wartime past risks derailing the move toward lasting peace, the rights office warned.
President Maithripala Sirisena's government has agreed to a United Nations resolution which, among other things, called for special war crimes tribunals and reparations for victims of the conflict, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
In the report launched Friday, the UN human rights office acknowledged that the government had made positive advances on constitutional and legal reforms, land restitution and symbolic gestures towards reconciliation.
But it cautioned that the measures taken so far had been "inadequate, lacked coordination and a sense of urgency."
UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein was concerned that "hard-won gains could prove illusory if they are not tethered to a comprehensive, robust strategy," the statement said.
"I urge the government and people of Sri Lanka to prioritise justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur," he said.
Friday's report made recommendations, including urging the government to prioritise the return of private land that has been occupied by the military, adopt laws allowing the creation of a hybrid court and invite the UN rights office to establish a presence in the country.
Zeid also urged "authorities at all levels" to make it clear to all branches of the military, intelligence and police that "torture, sexual violence and other human rights violations are unequivocally prohibited and will be punished."
"Such violations need to be promptly investigated without fail," he said.