Describing human rights in Sri Lanka in 2011 as an issue of “serious concern”, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Monday that significant progress was still needed to address the institutional weaknesses that allow for frequent human rights violations.

Terrorist suspects continued to be held without charge for long periods, there were restrictions on freedom of expression, political violence, reports of torture in custody, further cases of disappearances and almost no progress in investigating past disappearances, says its Human Rights Report for 2011. The section on Sri Lanka, which is one of the 28 countries of concern, focuses on accountability for alleged war crimes, respect for human rights — freedom of expression, minority rights, women's rights — a political settlement in a post-conflict era and abductions and disappearances, among other themes.

The report, launched by Foreign Secretary William Hague, noted that Sri Lanka did not make any “concrete progress” in holding to account those alleged to be responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the war. “The U.K. sees accountability for alleged war crimes, respect for human rights and a political settlement as being essential elements in post-conflict reconciliation,” it added. The report confirmed that later this year, in September 2012, U.K. will contribute to Sri Lanka's Universal Periodic Review under the U.N. human rights system in Geneva.

The report observes that after the cessation of hostilities in May 2009, there was some scaling back of the military presence in the north and east of Sri Lanka. “There remained, however, a heavy military presence, as witnessed by our High Commission staff during visits to these areas. Paramilitary groups also remained active in some areas of the country. On presentation of the LLRC report, the Sri Lankan government committed to further scale down the presence of the armed forces. We continue to urge that powers are transferred to civilian authorities wherever possible,” it said.

While the Sri Lankan government continued to focus on post-conflict reconstruction, and made progress in returning internally displaced persons to their home areas and in releasing former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters, the reported underlined the fact that about 700 ex-combatants remained in rehabilitation camps without having been formally charged and a larger number were still in detention centres. “The government said it was hoping to release all former LTTE fighters from rehabilitation centres by mid- 2012,” the report added.

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