Sri Lanka's failure to address international concerns about its record on human rights during its war with Tamil rebels has overshadowed this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo.
Human rights group claim that Sri Lankan troops allegedly killed an estimated 40,000 civilians while fighting with Tamil rebels in 2009. There have been demands for independent international inquiry into the mass killing of civilians during the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war.
Further there is no genuine freedom of expression and a free media in former war zones of northern and eastern provinces in Sri Lanka. Intimidation of journalists and human rights supporters continues unabated.
“Under the Rajapaksa government, journalists have been systematically threatened, harassed, killed or forced into exile in what amounts to a war on the press. Journalists and news organizations that do not toe the official line have their offices sacked, their staff detained, their equipment destroyed and their lives threatened,” according to the New York Times.
Navi Pillay, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, criticised the human rights abuses and the erosion of democracy during her seven-day visit to Sri Lanka in August. She further called for an international independent investigation on alleged human rights abuses and muzzling of freedom of expression.
However, the Sri Lankan government disputes Pillay’s observations. Even four years after the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka has continued to perpetuate an atmosphere of fear and oppression. The Rajapaksa government has shown no signs to stamp out torture of Tamils, demilitarize the north or make attempts for the reconciliation of communities.
Taking note of gross human rights abuses and Sri Lanka’s failure to address international concerns, heads of states including prime ministers of India and Canada have decided to skip the Summit. The Mauritian Prime Minister, Navin Chandra Ramgoolam also announced that he would boycott the summit, the Times of India reported.
However, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to attend the summit saying he intends to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to raise allegations of war crimes and abductions, the Guardian reported.
Reportedly Cameron has requested the Sri Lankan government to allow him to travel to the north of the country, where the worst atrocities took place during the civil war and meet people directly affected by the conflict.
The Rajapaksa government is hosting the summit as proof that the Commonwealth has no problem with its handling of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue and Sri Lanka will assume chairmanship of the group for the next two years.
Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes and human rights record are not on the CHOGM agenda. However, there are demands from human rights groups that heads of governments should seriously address Sri Lanka’s record of human rights abuses in the summit.
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