Members of the UK’s House of Commons have slammed the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for what it called a timid and inconsistent stand on the Commonwealth decision to host CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka, in a new report released today.
The Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons has released a damning report on the state of Sri Lanka’s rights record and says there is “scant evidence” of progress on improving the political and human rights standards in the country that will host a major Commonwealth Summit in its capital in less than a month.
The report includes an indepth analysis of the UK Foreign Office role in permitting Sri Lanka to bid for host of the 2013 CHOGM, saying Britain should have taken a more principled and robust stand.
“What concerns us now is how the Government has come to find itself in this position, and whether the FCO played its hand poorly, both in the discussions which led to the decision that Sri Lanka would be the hosts in 2013,” the Foreign Affairs Committee report said.
The Committee said it wrote to the British Foreign Secretary in May this year, asking specific questions about the discussions held to decide on Sri Lanka as the 2013 host of CHOGM. In his reply the Foreign Secretary had noted that the UK had made it clear to the Commonwealth Secretary-General both prior to and during the 2009 CHOGM in Port of Spain that the UK would be unable to support Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2011 CHOGM. The Foreign Secretary added that the decision to hold CHOGM in Sri Lanka in 2013 had been taken at the Port of Spain CHOGM in 2009, as part of a package which allocated the 2011 CHOGM to Australia and the 2015 CHOGM to Mauritius. “It was not conditional on specified improvements in the standards of human rights in Sri Lanka,” the FAC report said.
“From this letter, it became evident that the FCO had objected to Sri Lanka’s offer to host the 2011 CHOGM, which was subsequently offered to Australia, but not its offer to host the 2013 CHOGM,” the report notes.
“On the information available to us, the policy followed by the FCO during discussions at the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Port of Spain on venues for future Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings seems to have been inconsistent,” the British MPs committee noted.
The Committee said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had objected to a proposal that Sri Lanka might host the 2011 CHOGM on human rights grounds but did not obstruct a proposal that it might do so in 2013.
“Nor did it insist that Sri Lanka’s right to host in 2013 should be conditional on improvements in human rights. That approach now appears timid. The UK could and should have taken a more principled stand in 2009, and should have taken a more robust stand after the 2011 CHOGM in the light of the continuing serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka,” the damning report noted.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Government’s decision, we do not believe that continuing discussion on whether or not the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary should attend the 2013 CHOGM in Colombo would necessarily be productive. Nor do we believe that the question of the venue should be reopened at this late stage: as the Foreign Secretary said in his letter of 3 May to the Committee Chair, “there has been no widespread support for a change in location of CHOGM, and there is concern that the Commonwealth itself … should not be damaged, weakened or undermined by divisions over the location of the Heads of Government meeting”.