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article imageOp-Ed: Commonwealth summit opens in Sri Lanka, chaotic scenes in Jaffna

By Eileen Kersey     Nov 15, 2013 in Politics
Colombo - The Commonwealth Summit began in Sri Lanka Friday but the row over human rights breaches will not go away. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will chair the summit for the next two years, which could cause problems if concerns are not addressed.
Early news from Sri Lanka was that police had to try to contain hundreds of protesters in Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, as Prime Minister David Cameron visited the city.
An ITV reporter took to Twitter, following events as they happened:
Full-scale chaos as #cameron leaves police pushing protesters to ground 100s screaming Cameron convoy through.
Police knocked one woman to ground pushing others back. Big surge as Cameron left. Around 250 rushed to his car. Only 3 women thrust pix.
Relatives of the missing Tamils thrust pictures of their loved ones at the British leader's vehicle as he left Jaffna library with a police escort.
Allegations of human rights breaches, which date back to 2009, have already overshadowed the summit and resulted in the leaders of India, Mauritius and Canada boycotting the event.
There were calls for Cameron to follow suit but he opted to attend, taking the view that by attending he could raise questions about the allegations.
Whilst some will not agree with his point of view, it does have some basis. On Thursday night’s This Week on BBC1 in the UK, Labour MP Alan Johnson remarked that he had changed his mind on Cameron attending the summit. He referred to an incident Thursday involving BBC reporters. The Colombo Telegraph reports:
"A BBC cameraman was physically restrained by security officials at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. The BBC’s James Robbins and his cameraman Duncan Stone were attempting to film Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at a media event before the formal opening of the Commonwealth meeting."
As Johnson said, if people such as Cameron were not in the country, journalists would not be there neither. So in a strange way, the attendance of high-profile politicians at the summit is highlighting human rights issues in Sri Lanka.
Friday ITV news reports that "Sri Lanka opens democratic summit in undemocratic fashion." On the surface Sri Lanka is in pristine shape with all the pomp and expense of any multinational conference but you do not even need to scratch this glossy surface to see oppression.
"As Sri Lanka's president was reassuring the world that he upholds all the values of the Commonwealth - such as democracy, human rights and press freedom - the country's court was slapping a ban preventing the main opposition party from demonstrating and its police were preparing to put terrorism questions to dozens of elderly relatives of those who disappeared during the war."
As the flashy limousines, carrying international leaders, arrive at the summit they will join police officers, and vehicles, waiting to grab any protesters, who dare to speak out against the Sri Lankan authorities, and whisk them away.
The Sri Lankan government foolishly believed that this summit would enable it to show off the country and its postwar glory. Instead they are picking up the pieces.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is livid that the Tamil war, which ended in 2009, is overshadowing the summit but it seems human rights breaches are not just old hat in this country.
He said that the world ignored Sri Lanka when it endured a 30-year war including wide-scale terrorist activity but now world leaders want to make its conclusion an issue -- "No one is getting killed in Sri Lanka now. There is peace."
However, according to the UN, up to 40,000 people were killed, mostly by government shelling and gunfire in the death throes of the war. Tamil rebels were allegedly executed after surrendering and widespread rape and torture by government forces followed.
Note: You can watch the Nov. 14 edition of "This Week" on IPlayer here.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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